Rangers’ first CL test for 10 years was colossal food for thought for everyone concerned. Fans weren’t terribly happy with what they saw last night, and the manager shared that concern completely.
We’ve waited on this examination to see where we really are – forget the Europa League, it’s for teams who aren’t good enough for the CL. It always was, and while there’s no harm doing well in it, it’s not something players get rated for, or teams.
The CL is the real litmus test, the real place to find out what you’re made of. Walter’s Rangers, Dick’s Rangers and Eck’s Rangers all had mixed results, and now Stevie’s Rangers is finding life in Europe’s number one tournament a lot harder than some naïve fans might have hoped.
When Ibrox Noise argued that it was a huge hike up, the response from many supporters was to point at wins over Porto, Feyenoord and Braga in the UEL. There was even the angle that Porto themselves then excelled amazingly in the CL the season after we beat them.
None of this is false, but it paints an artificial picture of the gulf between the UEL and the CL.
As we’ve said before, the third qualifying round of the CL is probably higher than the last 16 of the UEL, and we’ve struggled now 5 times at this level to match our opponent.
Rangers weren’t bad last night, but the step up in quality and competition standards hit the team like a tonne of bricks. Malmo were smarter, they were bullies, in fact they basically cloned Praha’s approach against us. This is not to say Malmo can play, indeed their performance was unimpressive.
But they were canny. They took their chances, and they exploited a Rangers backline which had no experience at this level either for this club or any other. Compare that with Malmo, the bulk of whose team have plenty of experience in CL groups never mind qualifiers.
The hosts contained Rangers pretty easily and scored with two sucker punches, which shows how mistakes don’t get punished in the UEL like they do in the CL.
And that was the difference last night.
If Rangers do turn it around next week, which is of course entirely manageable at home with just one goal needed for extra time, getting past either Olympiacos or Ludogorets will be a further huge step in difficulty and one we hope we’d be a lot more prepared for.
Welcome to the CL.