Rangers opened up their Europa League Group stage with a draw away to Villarreal. Despite going behind twice in the match, they showed real fight and determination to get back into the game. It wasn’t their best performance, but it may be their best result so far of the season. With Rapid Vienna beating Spartak Moscow, this result opens up the group and makes the next two matches very interesting. This match analysis will show that Villarreal had more chances, but also report how Rangers kept trying to play good football.
Rangers started the match with Kyle Lafferty up front, replacing the suspended Morelos. In defence, Joe Worrall replaced Katic, with Gerrard confirming the latter needed a bit of a rest. Villarreal made 9 changes from their match at the weekend and were able to start with players like Cazorla and Bacca.
It had been 8 years since Rangers had been in a group stage of any European competition. The anticipation of the fans was huge, and no doubt the players were very nervous as well. It took all of 44 seconds for any fears to be multiplied as Villarreal took the lead. Rangers were looking to open the game up, and a long ball by Barisic was cut out on the halfway line. A few passes later, Bacca was on the ball, and a lucky deflection saw it fall for him perfectly on the bounce. With the outside of his right foot, he curled the ball over McGregor and put his team 1-0 up.
That goal certainly derailed Rangers, as they struggled to keep any sort of decent possession. Villarreal were good at closing down space, and in Cazorla, they had real quality on the ball. Chances were at a premium for both sides, however. Set pieces seemed to be the main threat, and both teams defended them pretty well.
The next chance of note came in the 40th minute. Halliday and Coulibaly couldn’t close down quickly enough as Cazorla found space just outside the box. His left foot shot was well struck, but McGregor made a simple enough save to put it out for a corner.
Rangers had grown into the match a little but were still loose in possession. The half time whistle came with no shots on goal for the travelling side.
It was clear Rangers were looking to press higher up the pitch in the second half. That almost came unstuck on 48 minutes as Villarreal missed a great chance. A through ball to Ekambi put him on goal. McGregor raced out to clear the ball outside his box, and it deflected into the feet of Bacca. From around 30 yards with an open goal, he put his shot just wide.
Two minutes later, Villarreal created another chance on the break. With Tavernier pushed forward, they found space on the left, and a cross found Ekambi at the back post. He lashed a poor effort high and wide.
Rangers were taking more risks trying to get players forward. It led to some scarier moments in defence. One of those saw McGregor make a great save to keep the score at 1-0. A clearing header from Barisic fell to Funes-Mori on the 18-yard line, and he hit a great shot on the volley. McGregor dived to his right to turn the ball wide at full stretch. Five minutes later, McGregor was involved again. In a move similar to the one Bacca missed, Villarreal hit Rangers on the break. Bacca was played through, McGregor came out to clear, and the resulting effort from distance went over the bar when the goal was gaping.
Villarreal were made to rue those missed chances on 66 minutes. A ball out from McGregor was excellently taken down by Tavernier, and he drove at the Villarreal defence. Beating 3 players, he was clearly fouled in the box, but the referee played the advantage as Candeias crossed perfectly for Arfield. The midfielder cushioned the ball into the net to make it 1-1.
That lasted all of 2 minutes as Villarreal took the lead again. Rangers were caught out by some poor pressing, and it left space for Cazorla to pick a pass. He played in Gerard Moreno on the right, who cut inside and scored with his left foot into the near post.
Rangers brought on Glenn Middleton to add to their attacking threat. The young winger was instrumental in the goal which brought Rangers level again. A great ball down the line by the substitute found Barisic on the run. He played a first-time cross into the path of Lafferty, who guided the ball home from close range.
Just as the board went up to signal 4 minutes of injury time, Rangers had a great chance to take the lead. Dorrans picked up the ball from a Villarreal clearance. He showed real quality to beat 2 players and play in Arfield, who hit a weak shot inside the box that was easily saved. At the other end, both Gerard Moreno and Bacca missed headers from great crosses in injury time.
Villarreal clearly had more of the chances and more of the play. Rangers got this result through sheer determination. Players grew into the match, and both goals scored by the team came from some great football. From this, Rangers can take real confidence, as there are better performances possible from the players but they know they can draw upon other things to get results. With home matches against Rapid Vienna and Spartak Moscow to come, the Europa League Group could be rather rewarding for Gerrard’s team.
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Halliday, Candeias (McCrorie, 76), Coulibaly,(Middleton 70) Kent, Barisic (Dorrans, 85), Worrall, Arfield, Lafferty.
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Sadiq, Katic, Grezda.
Fernandez, Funes Mori (Moreno, 66) Ruiz, Fornals, Bacca, Sansone, Llambrich, Pedraza, Ekambi (Tigueros, 60), Cazorla, Bonera.
SUBS NOT USED: Asenjo, Gaspar, Layun, Morlanes, Chukweze.