This evening’s Champions League results threw up an astonishing world of intrigue, context, and concepts for Rangers, given three of the four sides in action are teams Rangers have been beaten by in the past 8 months.
We begin with the Liverpool Real Madrid massacre.
For 14 minutes this one was looking like a shock Liverpool win, the true old Champions League Liverpool back in action after a huge hiatus. It was maybe even justifying Rangers’ shocking loss earlier this season. But then they imploded, and they did so in style, being hammered 2-5 by a Real Madrid side not even in second gear.
What did this mean to Rangers? It showed just what a loss Connor Goldson really was, and why manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst was not to blame for that horrible result that night. Why too many Rangers fans slaughtered the manager, or indeed bigged up Liverpool as a ‘world class side’.
The reality was we matched or even bettered them, till we lost Goldson, then throwing Leon King into the lion’s den alongside Ben Davies was just ripe for an absolute hammering. It had nothing to do with Liverpool being even remotely world class, it had nothing to do with Gio getting anything wrong, it had everything to do with having nothing but an 18-year-old kid to partner barely-fit Davies.
Tonight Liverpool had a taste of this themselves, but without them having lost any of their players to injury during the 90 – they were just put in their place for the very poor side they really are now.
Rangers’ horror loss at Ibrox was pure bad luck. There’s nothing more to it. And the 2-0 at Anfield was underwhelming – had we shown less respect we could have got something. Both goals were of course set pieces or a spot kick.
Then we move onto Eintracht v Napoli.
This one was absolutely tantalising – Rangers lost, admittedly deservedly (albeit heartbreakingly), in Sevilla to an Eintracht who went onto be very convincing in the Champions League as well in their group. They’ve become an impressive European team.
Napoli beat Rangers twice, by a distance the best Italian side around these days – not the best Italian side we’ve ever seen, but the strongest of a poor bunch.
Tonight? Eintracht shipped two goals to their visitors, admittedly down to 10 men, but were deservedly beaten by the better side at home, and can probably wave their Champions League dream goodbye because they only have a slim chance of even getting a draw in Naples. Still, anything is possible.
So what did this all mean to Rangers, if anything? It showed the margins at this level – Eintracht were too strong in Sevilla, and they progressed to the Champions League seamlessly, but the last 16 is now a step too far for them it appears. Rangers did themselves proud in Sevilla, coming close, but despite our hopes and dreams, even up against an abysmal Liverpool and even worse Ajax, we were still out of our depth and deeply inexperienced at that level. As for Napoli, a great team who beat us, but we can take comfort in giving them a decent fight in both matches.
The biggest irony of all, we suppose, is against Liverpool, Eintracht and Napoli we actually gave a good and honourable account of ourselves in each match aside Anfield – the only two European matches in which Rangers truly actually disgraced themselves was, comically, against the worst team we actually faced, in the hapless Ajax, who couldn’t even score at home v Union Berlin in the Europa League last week.
So while it’s all what ifs and whatmays, it’s always worth measuring the levels we’re at, against the levels we want to be at.
The Champions League campaign was the worst individual one by any side in the tournament’s history, and yet, the outcomes tonight painted an intriguing picture of what Rangers faced, and what we could actually have done with a spot of luck and a bit more courage. We weren’t as horrible as we probably think.
But, it is what it is, is it not?