10 years ago to the very day, Rangers played what would be their last Champions League qualifying match for a decade. Fast forward to 2021 and of course it was the same opponents that we would come up against, Swedish champions Malmo. Our club is in such a better place now than it was in 2011, some players still there, but many new faces who have turned our side into a force to be reckoned with, certainly in Scotland, but we have held our own and then some on the European stage. Because of that, the result to many will be viewed as a disappointing one for us, as Steven Gerrard would lose his first European qualifying match in his 3 years he has been here. But a goal right at the end of the match for our side has given us real hope going into the return leg at Ibrox, as the game pattern itself suggests we have every chance of getting the required result to advance. Malmo showed why they are at this stage of the competition. They have good players, well coached and are benefitting from being more than a dozen games into their domestic season. They looked sharper in terms of fitness during stages of the game, and we suffered from that lack of killer ball at times. In fact, a lot of our use of the ball in the final third was so far removed from what we had grown used to last season that it led to many Rangers fans growing concerned about what we were witnessing. Many will tell you that this was the poorest performance from a team under Gerrard in Europe, and as bad as we have seen in a year.
A lot of that reaction will come from the way in which Malmo scored two goals in the space of 2 minutes, with our defence switching off and panicking in a way that harked back to blunders of early 2020. We lost shape first time around, leaving the goalscorer in so much space to convert, and the second goal was of our own making in that we just did not deal with the impending danger anywhere near like we would expect us to. We were all deflated from this, fans remembering the feeling of being in that stadium 10 years earlier to see our side exit the competition. Other fans were thinking back even further to Gothenburg in 1997. But the key thing for us is the fact that this was still the first leg. We had to make sure that we stayed in the tie, a third goal for Malmo would have ended the chance of progression. A goal for us? Well, that would make things very interesting indeed. Our attacking intent was good but we just didn’t seem to have the right players there or the right players just didn’t do what we would expect. But in terms of how we were playing middle to front, we all could see that there was every chance we could score against them. And with the very last kick of the game, we did, pressing high, forcing Malmo into mistakes over clearing the ball, a strike on the edge of the box caught the Malmo keeper on his heels, and in one sweet moment, the momentum of the tie has suddenly shifted. And so now the task is simple. Win by two goals. However you want to do it, just find a way. And you will have a bouncing Ibrox to back you.
Here is how you rated our players from our night in Malmo.
Allan McGregor – 5.4 (6)
It’s easy to pin the blame on a goalkeeper when you concede twice in a game. For me, I think he needs more protection from those in front of him in regard to the two goals. In the first half he makes a smart save from a shot where the player cut inside from the right. The first goal is a snap shot in the box for a player wide open, those are near impossible to save. The second, he comes off his line to try and intercept the error from the defence but it’s too late. He will certainly want this game forgotten about. Perhaps it requires a super star night from him at Ibrox next Tuesday. We know he can do it.
James Tavernier – 5.1 (6)
The defence frailties of James Tavernier have appeared once again sadly. I place a lot of the blame on his shoulders for the first goal and he doesn’t cover himself in glory for the second. He has no idea there is a player behind him in a good amount of space to hit that shot, he should be way closer to him, instead he finds himself close to McGregor and not really covering anyone in particular, more covering a space, which was pointless. I did think that going forward he was showing some good intent, which is why those two errors were more the anomaly of the night for him in my opinion, but that was poor from him.
Connor Goldson – 4.7 (5)
You’ve just gone 1-0 down, what do you do? Exactly the opposite of what Goldson does. He messes about with the situation, doesn’t deal with the ball, panics (you can see it in his face) and the head is completely gone, an easy finish for the second. This is why his rating is as low as this, he has to do so much better at that point of the game in that circumstance, as we suddenly find ourselves with a mountain to climb in the tie. And I wouldn’t say that he had the same aura of dominance at the back as what he has shown before for us. I do not want to believe that the step up is an issue for him. I want to believe he is a better defender than that.
Filip Helander – 5.6 (5)
Returning to his boyhood club, the one he will finish his career at some day, and it was a rude awakening for Fil I feel as, while he did not have the same errors in his game as Goldson did, I think his use of the ball was a bit erratic and it needed the extra sense of calm that he often exudes at the back. You did not notice him as much in the game which, given the calamities is probably a good thing, but you would have liked him to step up even more to try and control the defence. A weird reunion with his hometown, I think he would have wanted to have shown himself to have more in this game.
Borna Barisic – 5.0 (5)
Nothing to speak about in a defensive sense, but going forward I was extremely disappointed in Borna. We are so used to him being able to deliver a quality ball, either in play or from a set piece. Well, he really didn’t do that here. Free kicks that were way over the bar, not getting the ball in at the right time, it was frustrating to see. And when he did start to threaten a bit more as the game went on, the guy ideal to be on the end of those was off the field. He is way better than what he produced.
John Lundstram – 4.1 (5)
I have to say, I did not see this coming. What I thought we would get from Lundstram was a lot of covering the right hand side when Tavernier would come forward, whilst offering an additional quality on the ball to set things up. Instead, he found the easy option in the ball back to McGregor far too comfortable. And I would really like to know where he was during the build up to their first goal. He arrived way too late, if he saw that Tavernier was not covering his man. He has been harshly reviewed by the fans here because we expect better from him.
Steven Davis – 6.3 (7)
Ten years ago he was part of the squad who suffered disappointment on this very ground. He must have been wondering if this ground just was meant to cause angst for his team, no matter the decade. But he wasn’t going to stand for it. This tie was not going to die on its back side. One goal changes a whole lot, and it was Sir Steven Davis he got it. Receiving the ball from the right, he cuts in and on his weaker left has a pop which catches everyone off guard and slams into the net. Even though away goals are now no longer a thing, what that does for the momentum of next week is absolutely massive. Should we go through, that goal will have played a massive part in it, and its hard to put a value on that moment, but it will be multiple millions worth.
Scott Arfield – 4.3 (5)
I take no pleasure in saying this, but I have a feeling that at some point this season we will begin to see more and more people saying “we need to talk about Scotty Arfield”. This game was a worrying piece of evidence for that. Energy is the first thing you think of in terms of what Arfield has given us since he arrived. He looked leggy to me. And when that constant running, that hussle isn’t there, you then wonder what else there is? He is good in the box but there are other guys who are better than him at that role. What makes him unique, what makes him stand out as that option, is how he can add that to being a solid workhorse in the middle. If that isn’t there, do we believe he can adapt? If it turns out to be a case that it was simply an off night, I will be the most relieved of us all, because the very traits I described before are so valuable in a lot of games. And we would love to see more of it.
Scott Wright – 6.4 (7) – Man of the Match
What we saw from Scott Wright tonight was a player who deserved to be playing at this level. Kept at it, wanted to make a goalscoring impact, and caused the Malmo defence to keep a close eye on him. I was impressed by the effort, and the fact that he showed plenty of technical ability to back it up. In the space of half a year he has grown into someone who, if it came to it, you would have no issue starting for us on big European nights. His stock is only going to rise. And we will be the beneficiaries of it.
Cedric Itten – 5.4 (6)
A lot of people expected Itten to start to offer that physical presence up top, given Roofe was unavailable and Morelos was not match ready. Early on there was a bit of promise with this as he did what you would expect target men to do in regard to holding up the ball and it finding him like a magnet. The issue he had was how he then used it. He looked isolated, he didn’t have enough guys up with him, and on the odd occasion the ball was near the penalty area and he had possession, he did not know what to do with it. A different style gets a lot more out of him. A partner up top to do a lot of the things he cannot do at this stage means he can simply focus on what a traditional 9 does. These games require someone who can hold up the ball but also use it a lot better. It needs Morelos.
Ryan Kent – 5.0 (5)
The thing you can say for Kent is he got an assist. Other than that, this was a really odd display from him. His use of the ball was awful, there was no killer pass, his dribbling didn’t cause Malmo issues and too often he tried to do everything himself which, every time, led to nothing. His pass to Davis for the goal is what he should have been doing more of during the game, the easy option. This probably happened due to the occasion and the level of game, wanting to make an impression. You do far more by contributing to the greater cause than flying solo.
Fashion Sakala – 5.0 (5)
I get why you bring Fashion on, but I think it was wrong to take off Itten. I think both he and Sakala would have benefitted from playing together, and more chances for both would have come about. As it was, there was little for him to work with in the end. Interesting to see whether he continues to play as the main man or whether we start to see him a bit wider once all players are back and involved.