Rangers travelled to Germany to put a final full stop on the 2019-20 campaign as they faced Bayer Leverkusen in the second leg of their last 16 Europa League tie. The only way that we stood a chance of progressing to the Quarter Finals was for us to score three times, therefore many fans expected us to open up and have a go in what was seen by the vast majority as a free hit for the Light Blues. The more realistic fans saw this free hit as a glorified friendly which could be used for further conditioning and bringing other players back into the fold following long lay-offs. By the evidence of the line up picked and the ensuing 90 minutes, the latter option seemed to be favoured by the coaching staff. And if we are looking for positives from this game, we did not have any injuries in the North Rhine sun, and in fact one of the players brought back in had a very good game indeed. The less said about other players the better…but, that’s what we are here for and we shall endeavour to evaluate the efforts of both the impressive Swede’s and the disappointing Colombians.
We should also take the opportunity to reflect on this Europa League campaign as a whole. 395 days earlier we began our quest for European glory in Gibraltar, which feels like a lifetime ago. We had some incredible nights at Ibrox, some fun away trips in Denmark, Portugal (twice) and Holland. We had the group stages top goalscorer, the most incredible comeback and by far the longest European run of any side on the continent. As a result of this, and the previous season, we have given Scotland an additional Champions League place to qualify for in this domestic campaign we have started. This is a remarkable achievement from Steven Gerrard. So as much as we will be rightly disappointed with the 90 minutes in western Germany, we have a lot to be proud of.
Allan McGregor – 6.6 (6)
Funnily enough the exact same rating as he got for the game against Aberdeen, but this was a far busier night for the goalie, and boy did the angst in his face show it. Leverkusen’s quality in attack meant we had a lot of dangerous moments, shots from Havertz hitting the bar, a save with his foot to deny Bayer adding some flair to the scoreline from their point of view, and the first goal that we have conceded this season coming from Diaby ending up one on one with McGregor. Shots were peppered at the Rangers goal and although the majority were off target, McGregor still had to be very alert to handle this. Outwith the shot stopping aspect, I was fairly disappointed with some of his distribution, aimless balls up the park that just felt like a chance for him to get a breather rather than anything constructive.
James Tavernier – 5.5 (5)
One of the things that I perhaps didn’t dive into from the previous ratings was the defensive output of Tavernier. His stats for challenges won were a lot higher than we are maybe used to, but this is because he has really worked on making himself a good defensive player in my opinion. He has shown this in some games, but this is not one of those games. Now, context is very important with this. Tav is not going to face many teams this season who have the attacking quality and pace that Leverkusen posses, but a lot of fingers can point to the captain for the goal that we conceded. The long ball over the top found a gap behind a mainly hard working central defence, but Tavernier’s closing down of his man in that situation just wasn’t good enough. Neither was his attacking output, and neither was…well, anything I suppose. Let’s see how he does against our more standard opposition of course, but the step up felt really big for him in particular.
Connor Goldson – 6.9 (7)
If there was any debate on the issue, I feel that has now come to an end. Connor Goldson is without doubt our number one centre back. He looked a lot more comfortable in this game than what you would expect, and the man marking job he did on Kevin Volland, who looked rather isolated as a result, is testament to his abilities as unit at the back. He won the most duals in the game, 9, the majority of which came from the battle with Volland. He was also our most successful passer of the ball, using the ball a lot better at least despite the temptation to just “hoof” it away under the pressure. Unlucky with a chance in the second half to give us something to cheer about when his effort from a corner was cleared off the line. Had that gone in, he would have likely taken the Man of the Match gong from his defensive partner.
Filip Helander – 7.6 (7) – Man of the Match
And what a comeback it was for big Fil! His inclusion was seen as a surprise by many given he had not featured for the side since December, but he slotted in comfortably and made some excellent blocks. There was nothing fancy about his defending, and there were occasions were players would get in behind or the occasional misjudged flight of the ball, but what you had from Helander was a very composed and experienced defender who understand his role and, given the pressure that was put on him by the excellent Balogun display, this was as good a response to that as you could expect. The manager now has choices to make in terms of the back line. I definitely do not see, nor recommend, a change to a back three to accommodate all three. The defensive duo works, and if a partnership between Leon and Filip can work as well, then we have the makings of a most useful rotation policy in place at the back.
Borna Barisic – 6.1 (6)
Tough shift, but there were a lot of crosses produced which led to very little, more so down to those that were being aimed for, but there was not the variety that we were requiring from Borna again. Didn’t have any joy when advancing forward with the ball, and had to spend a lot more time defending than he would normally expect to, which he did fine enough at in fairness. Set pieces were never likely to impose much of a threat on Bayer, and we never really had a chance to hit a direct free kick either, although his shot with his weaker foot late on was really the only time Hradecky was properly tested. No reason to be critical of BB, it was always going to be tough.
Ryan Jack – 5.5 (5)
A lot of debate is being sparked around the level of player Ryan Jack is and whether he is someone that can be part of a successful Rangers team’s midfield. I would suggest that the player we know he is capable of being is that, but we have not seen that enough lately. I wondered whether the inclusion of Davis would help bring the best out of Jack, but this was again a fairly safe effort from him. A lot of short and easy passes, nowhere near dominant enough to challenge their middle two, and probably, at this stage, not the style of player we need in that more advanced midfield role. Is he more suited to being in the holding role now? Quite possibly. And he is also likely our best bet when it comes to that role for what we currently have, if we include the much sought after midfield buy that we expect. But, and this for me is the crucial bit, we are perhaps at the point where Ryan Jack can be part of a successful Rangers team, but if we are to be successful that may well be as a bit part player.
Steven Davis – 4.8 (5)
A player who Heart and Hand are thoroughly delighted to be sponsoring for the years of service and the quality player he has been for both club and country. But that level of quality really does feel like it is in the past tense now. A game that really passed Steven Davis by, where we do not have much evidence of him being able to control a tempo in any way. He now feels like a luxury player, for the games against lower opposition where that very tempo that he can set is one that is more suitable to him than the game itself. To have less than 30 successful passes in what is a very important role in the team is not good enough, and he was anonymous in the battle in the middle of the park. This needs to be a case of learning for the coaching staff. When it comes to the big games this season, I’m really not sure Steven Davis should be a part of that anymore.
Joe Aribo – 6.2 (6)
A lot of successful dribbles, decent use of the ball, and very threatening early on in the game. But again there were long spells where the game just passed Joe Aribo by. Is it another case of lack of confidence when it comes to this kind of games? Surely he knows how much of an impact he can have on a tie after what he did against Braga? In any case, we need to see a longer spell of the uber-Aribo that we got to witness in pre season. I’m not saying it has to be 90 minutes, but let’s aim for 25 to start with and work from there.
Brandon Barker – 4.3 (5)
It’s bad when the only thing you really remember of an attacking players performance is his woeful hair. He played a specific role against Porto earlier in the season and that worked in fairness, so we maybe expected a similar type of situation here. But this game really did pass him by and the lack of touches he had on the ball possibly shows a lack of trust in him which would beg the question “why play him in the first place?” Was it perhaps reward for the spark he showed in pre season? In any case, were the expectation levels higher on the team, I would expect a lot more heat on Barker. Maybe a new look will see him right. Get the razor out Brandon, time to accept the inevitable and embrace the bald.
Alfredo Morelos – 3.8 (4)
I really did not want to be so critical of Alfredo in what is quite possibly his last start (maybe even his last appearance) in a Rangers shirt, but this performance was pathetic. For our main striker to not have a single shot at goal in a game where we absolutely needed goals, for him to drop deep but in a sauntering manner which suggested a lack of care, for the effort level to be so poor that even in the first five minutes we were turning to each other and saying “he doesn’t want to hurt himself before his move”, these are the reasons why a lot of his most ardent and loyal fans will have a sour taste in the mouth. To go from what was a decent showing against Aberdeen to that was so unexpected and yet for the manager to turn round after the game and say “we know his head has been turned” just shows how much his mind is just no longer in it. The fact we have our new recruits in place is a real positive, I would expect at least one to start at the weekend in fact, but we can only hope that the deal is more or less there in regard to Alfredo moving on, the time has come for it to happen. I’m so grateful that we got to enjoy his formative years as a top level striker, and I will always want him to do well any time I see him playing in big European or International competitions in the future. But what a crappy way for it to end.
Ryan Kent – 5.5 (6)
I thought that Kent showed wee flashes of clever play, particularly in the first half, and by far and away looked our most busy attacking threat, whether it be small fakes or advancing runs. There wasn’t really an end product on that though which I guess brings his number down, and given the contest was really done by the 65th minute mark it made sense for him to come off to keep him fresh for what will be seen as the primary focus now.
Ianis Hagi – 5.5 (5)
Had half the time on the field that Barker had but did a lot more with that time, that right there is the difference in levels. Good close control, a willingness to at least try and feeling of wanted pressure to be the key guy on this stage. It was not a bad appearance, despite there being very little on the end of it.
Jordan Jones – 4.9 (5)
Fairly surprising to see Jones enter the field given the impression that his time was up, but it wasn’t like he was going to get a whole load of joy. Fans still think he has something to offer, which in fairness he probably does, but for the games that he is likely to feature in if he was to stay, I’m not sure his mindset will allow him to get his head down and get on with it, which the management team will not stand for.
Scott Arfield – 5.1 (5)
I think Scott Arfield will have a real danger of being rated very low for the season as we will see him enter games in a number of different positions that will ultimately unsettle him. His best role for me would be as that advancing right sided centre mid, but I just cannot see him being used there from the start. A good option to have for a number of areas, but we will need to keep an eye on that I think regarding any regression.
Greg Stewart – 4.6 (5)
Stewart is another player who will be able to play a number of different roles, but he feels very out of place in a scene such as this. He is a difference maker in your games against sides you should beat comfortably, a handy option when you want to rest guys like Kent, like Hagi. And these are players that every good squad needs. But he will need to be careful of the fact that one or two acquisitions could lead him to easily become an alternative option for the alternative option. Once that point arrives, you can’t see him staying the course.
Nathan Patterson – 5.3 (5)
So many fans have a real hope that we will be producing players from Auchenhowie to come into the first team and make an impact. A lot of signs suggest that Nathan Patterson has a real chance of this, and fans have already really taken to him for his straight forward way of playing. I like the look of him, I think a season shadowing Tav, featuring in some games and really building up his strength could see him push a lot closer to the regular first team spot. Let’s play this one right, Rangers, we have a real chance to achieve that target with this lad.