Watching Rangers over the years in Europe has never been dull. This match was no different. And it was a far cry from the 0-0 tactical battle at Ibrox a fortnight ago. The 4-3 defeat is still baffling, and hard to take, especially as the game unfolded the way it did. It feels like a missed opportunity and when you score three goals away from home in Europe, you have to have the nouse and proper level of game management to see the game out. Spartak will not believe their luck.
The defence was terrible – time for Steven Gerrard to pick a back four and stick with it
Shambolic, slack, and generally terrible are just a few words that adequately describe the defensive performance. So much so Steven Gerrard had a go at Connor Goldson and Jon Flanagan post-match saying: “Under-12s and under-13s normally can clear the ball with either foot.” And Nikola Katic described the four goals lost as “stupid.” It was one of those nights where everything defensively was a shambles. For a European away game, I was gobsmacked at how open Rangers were. It made for an exciting game littered with poor defending but, you cannot do that, especially when you aren’t in the best of form generally, which is the case with Rangers at the moment.
The four goals were ridiculous from Goldson’s own goal to Candeias going missing at the back post. But there was a noticeable lack of cohesion in the back four. It was as if they had just met each other five minutes before kick-off. Katic and Flanagan looked very ropey. Spartak targetted that left side and got plenty of joy from it. However, this is the same back four who looked solid through the qualifying rounds and it was broken up. It’s time for Steven Gerrard to pick a prefered back four and stick with it. Yes, it was a bad night at the office, but Rangers in defence have looked much less solid and Katic looks shot of confidence. In my opinion, that comes down to the manager. Of course, he cannot shoulder the blame for the individual mistakes on the night, but the constant rotation of the defence has had an impact and has to come to an end.
The lack of someone in the middle of the park to control the tempo of the game was obvious
As much as the defence was awful, the midfield was every bit as bad. I do like the three midfielders – Arfield, Coulibaly and Ejaria. However, they offered zero protection to a back four that was clearly struggling. Furthermore, they didn’t seem to know what their individual roles were. It was difficult for them to impose themselves on the game due to its basketball-like nature. But this is the time where proper players show their class. I was expecting Ejaria and Arfield between them to try and get on the ball and calm everything down, allowing Rangers to gain some control, but it was nonexistent. In that case, Gerrard should have changed it and brought in an extra defensive midfielder to close the game out. That didn’t happen either. But the glaring need for someone who can dictate the tempo of a game and take the sting out of things – a Barry Ferguson-type – is staring everyone square in the face.
The group is now wide open
Yeah, we’re here again. Rangers make a blistering start to a group stage and end up being one defeat from potentially heading out. It happened under Dick Advocaat and it happened in 2007/08 in the Champions League under Walter Smith. Rangers have competed so well in the group so far but this defeat and the nature of it may come back to haunt Gerrard and his players. Villarreal at Ibrox becomes a must-win in terms of progression. However, I can’t help but feel that the players and manager have taken a 9mm, loaded it, pulled the trigger and shot themselves in the foot.