In the aftermath of Tuesday night’s Anfield defeat, there was a near unanimous reaction from supporters and indeed fan sites alike (including Ibrox Noise). Gio is receiving a barrage of criticism, and the overall feeling is one of disappointment and frustration. However, I personally take a very different view, and having had a few sleeps to reflect, wanted to share it. I don’t imagine it will be very popular at all, but I’ve always enjoyed being a bit of a “Maverick”.
Of course, we don’t like or indeed expect to lose football matches. Regardless of the opposition, we’re Glasgow Rangers and winning is in our club’s DNA. So, to lose 4 games from our last 6 by a combined score of 12-0, to Celtic, Ajax, Napoli and Liverpool, understandably, perhaps, fans aren’t happy. I think it’s important to take a minute to gain some perspective on the situation we now find ourselves in though, before we start panicking and falling out with each other.
Let’s just recap on what exactly happened on Tuesday and work it backwards from there. We were playing away to Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Last year’s narrowly beaten Champions League finalists, six-time competition winners, with a squad worth nearly ONE BILLION pounds. Did we get humiliated? The answer, an emphatic “no”. We lost 2-0. Last season’s second-best team in Europe, who could only put 2 goals past us, in the form of 2 set pieces – a penalty and a free kick.
Of course, we’ve got a certain Mr McGregor to thank for a quite honestly ridiculous performance between the sticks, incidentally, overlooking him at the start of the season is, in my opinion the worst decision Gio has made as Rangers manager, inexplicable and indefensible. In fact, Gio has made a few decisions that could be categorised similarly, setting up with a 5-4-1 away to Liverpool however, isn’t one of them.
Clearly, there was a lot to be desired from our performance, and with the benefit of hindsight, bringing on Sakala and Matondo in place of Tillman and Kent, for some pace was pretty effective. Of the four players though, there’s no doubt that Kent deserved to start the game, and though Tillman ended up being our worst player by a country mile on the night, he possibly deserved a place over Sakala and Matondo, all things considered so far this season. Rabbi is looking better all the time though, while Tillman seems to be looking worse, so it may be that Matondo would be a preferable option to Tillman going forward at the moment.
I digress though, the fact of the matter, is that losing 2-0 to Liverpool, in isolation, isn’t a terrible result, even though it leaves us rock bottom of group A, without a single point.
Let’s look at the other 2 group games now, starting with Ajax, away. Well for starters, we went with the wrong keeper, but were completely caught off guard by a team who, simply, were hungrier and far better on the ball than we were. No complaints, it was one to learn from.
And “learn” is exactly what we did, because for Matchday 2, we competed with a free scoring Napoli team who had just blown Liverpool away. Sadly, despite more McGregor heroics, we ran out of steam later on, and as we all know, lost 3 goals in the last quarter of the game. That one could have been different though, and there wasn’t much to complain about in terms of team selection, tactics or desire.
Essentially, what I’m saying, is that although the league table doesn’t lie (we are, after all, the lowest seeded team in the group), it doesn’t tell the whole story and while our chances of even gaining a 3rd placed spot, on paper, look to be somewhere between zero and slim, there’s still 3 games to go, 2 of which are at Ibrox. Not overlooking the fact that Ajax themselves got humiliated by Napoli on Tuesday. You’d fancy the Italians next week as well, and expect Liverpool to beat them on Matchday 5. So the “borderline fiction” I discussed last week, of a scenario where we could actually get 3rd spot, relies on us taking at least 1 point from the next 2 games, before beating Ajax at home – just imagine going into that one with something still to play for!!
If we compare our Champions League form to Celtic’s, despite them having scored 2 goals and registering a point, they’re probably doing just as badly, if not even worse than us. Well for starters, they lost 3-0 to Real Madrid at home, sure, they had a go, but the outcome was even worse for them than for us against Liverpool. They could only manage a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar, a team who I believe we would have beaten. Likewise, they lost 3-1 last night to RB Leipzig, the same score we lost to them, exactly 5 months earlier in last season’s Europa League. We would of course go on to beat them at Ibrox, I’m not so sure Celtic will get a result next week. The point here, is that in a significantly easier group, Celtic only have 1 more point than we do, and it’s likely that neither of us will be progressing in Europe this season.
All the more importance then, if it wasn’t already, is placed on the league, and that quest for 56, again as I alluded to last week, is our number one priority. With Celtic having slipped up at St Mirren pre-International break, they were less than convincing against Motherwell at the weekend, whereas we put 4 goals past 3rd placed hearts at Tynecastle. That should be our 3rd toughest fixture of the season, and we made it look easy. This brings me on to my next point – Antonio Goal-ak. Most fans were miffed at his exclusion from the starting 11 on Tuesday, given the form he’s in, including another brace at the weekend. Personally, I thought this was another correct call by the manager. As I mentioned, the league takes priority and so giving Colak a frustrating night against Van Dijk and Matip, when Morelos is far more physical, and can link the play from deeper anyway (despite our final 3rd ending up being tumbleweed valley) isn’t a bad use of the squad. Colak gets restored on Saturday, nice and fresh, and (hopefully) continues his scoring form in a competition that we simply must win. By all means, if we’re heading into the Ajax game needing a win to take 3rd spot, we’ll be livid if we don’t go for broke, however, for now, the league isn’t being jeopardised by chasing lost causes in Europe.
In summary then, yes, we’re disappointed to have lost 4 games out of 6, but the fact is, we’re only 2 points behind Celtic and actually look better than they do at the moment. Our Champions League results are gradually improving game on game and I wouldn’t be surprised if we did manage to somehow find a point from our next 2 games, and who knows, set up a grandstand finish against Ajax in 4 weeks’ time. Football can often be about perspectives, and I prefer the “glass half full” one.
Regardless of anything though, remember, we are Rangers, and that in itself is as good as it gets.