Rangers saw their unbeaten run in Europe ended by Spartak Moscow in a match that was as frustrating as it was entertaining. The 4-3 defeat saw Gerrard’s side lead 3 times in the first half. Both sides had moments defensively which were very poor. The result, coupled with the draw between Villarreal and Rapid Vienna, means the Europa League group is now very tight going into the last 2 matches. This match report includes a tactical analysis of where Rangers went wrong.
Rangers lined up with 5 changes from the weekend. Katic and Flanagan were back in the starting defence, with Coulibaly playing in front of them. Middleton started wide left to replace Kent, and Candeias came back in on the right wing. Spartak Moscow also made 5 changes from their side that started at the weekend, with Fernando returning from injury.
It didn’t take long to provide us with the signs of how this match was shaping up. Only 2 minutes in, Spartak had a shot from Fernando blocked, and it fell to Zobnin. His effort on goal was just wide from around 25 yards. Rangers had a chance a minute later as the ball broke to Arfield in the box. His low cross was cleared for a corner with Middleton waiting to tap the ball in.
From the corner, Rangers took the lead. A great ball in by Middleton was met by Eremenko and he put the ball into his own net. The pressure from Coulibaly forced the own goal, and Rangers had a very vital early lead.
Spartak reacted well to this, and Rangers were struggling to keep the ball. Bocchetti had a shot on the volley from outside the box which McGregor had to turn round for a corner. Four minutes later, Bocchetti was involved again, as a shot from a loose ball after a corner was blocked and almost turned into the Rangers goal.
A penalty claim from Popov after a great run was rightly denied by the referee. The winger was booked for diving. The pressure was building though, and on 22 minutes Spartak got their equaliser. Popov found time and space on the right and played a cross to the back post which was turned in by Melgarejo.
It seemed that Spartak were well on top, but 5 minutes later Rangers scored again. A great ball over the top by Flanagan was collected on the turn by Candeias, and he scored with a great finish at the edge of the box.
That goal didn’t settle the game down either. A couple of yellow cards for Spartak and a lot of missed opportunities on the break meant things were becoming quite scrappy. A great ball by Middleton was blocked by Bochetti at the near post with Morelos waiting to tap the ball in. Only 2 minutes after that, Spartak made it 2-2. Flanagan was poor with his positioning and allowed Popov to get space behind him. The ball across should have been dealt with by Goldson, but his attempted clearance was awful and flew into the top corner for another own goal. After 35 minutes, the game had seen 4 goals and loads of mistakes.
And on 41 minutes, another mistake led to Rangers taking the lead. Morelos drove at the Spartak defence, and was tackled by Bocchetti. The ball broke into the area for Middleton who placed a shot under goalkeeper Maksimenko to make it 3-2.
Rangers were then denied a goal by the offside flag. Candeias was sent away on the right and played a great ball across to Morelos. The striker scored with a first-time effort but was deemed offside. Replays suggested the decision was incorrect, and it would prove to be a pivotal moment.
It would have been hoped by Gerrard that Rangers would settle in the second half and take control of the game. Only 2 minutes into the half, McGregor made a great save from Adriano which suggested it was going to be more of the same. Rangers were under pressure, and Popov went down in the box under a challenge from Katic. The referee decided it was neither a penalty nor a dive, and replays suggested Rangers got a bit of luck. The referee may have been influenced by the dive from Popov earlier in the match.
Rangers were struggling to get out of their own half. Middleton got the ball on the left in a 4v4 break but couldn’t find a Rangers player with his low cross. Two minutes after that, Spartak made it 3-3. Flanagan failed to clear a ball which was then crossed to Hanni at the near post. McGregor made a good save from his attempt, but the ball broke to Luiz Adriano who nodded home from close range.
Rangers were rocked by that, and fell 4-3 behind straight from kick off. The ball was given away and Hanni had an effort from distance which deflected off Goldson and left McGregor with no chance. Two goals in a minute changed the entire mood of the stadium.
Rangers couldn’t get going, and it was Spartak who almost scored the next goal on 74 minutes. Bocchetti had a header from a free-kick hit the bar, and saw his shot on the rebound well saved. Two minutes later, Malgarejo was booked for diving after a great run was stopped by Goldson diving into a challenge. Again, replays suggested Rangers were lucky not to concede a penalty.
It took until the 93rd minute for Rangers to create a clear chance, and they should have scored from it. A great corner by Middleton was met by Katic and hit the post. The ball was scrambled clear and Rangers missed the opportunity to get a point from the game.
Rangers will rarely see a match where they score 3 goals and lose. Much like the Motherwell game earlier in the season, it was individual errors which led to the conceded goals rather than something tactical. Going forward, many an opportunity was spurned by poor passing, with Rangers completing only 204 of 309 attempted passes. Most of the passes not completed were ones being made forward.
After the match, Gerrard said he didn’t feel the tactics or approach were incorrect. I believe that was a fair assessment of the game, as both sides had players making big mistakes which led to goals. The incorrect decision to chop off the Morelos goal was key. Add that to an own goal which should have been dealt with and a deflected shot, with another goal coming from a rebound after a good save, and it’s clear to see that luck wasn’t on the side of Rangers either. There’s no doubt the team could have played better, but it’s worth noting those fine margins as well.
The knowledge that the team will learn from this sort of experience, and that a lack of said experience most likely contributed to the result, doesn’t help ease any frustrations right now. Rangers can still qualify from the group, but both matches against Spartak could have led to far better results than were gained.
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan (Halliday 82); Coulibaly (Grezda 82), Arfield, Ejaria (McAuley 90); Candeias, Middleton, Morelos.
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Jack, McCrorie, Worrall.
FC SPARTAK MOSKVA:
Maksimenko, Fernando, Adriano (Ze Luis 81), Bocchetti, Melgarejo, Eremenko (Glushakov 60), Kutepov, Zobnin, Popov (Timofeev. 71), Rasskazon, Hanni.
SUBS NOT USED: Rebrov, Dzhikiya, Lomovitski, Eschenko.