Last week, Rangers faced Bayer Leverkusen in front of a packed Ibrox in the first leg of our last 16 tie in the Europa League. Of course, this game feels so much more significant given the fact this was our last game for an extended period of time. The Coronavirus outbreak has put football on hold, meaning our most recent memory of our side has come in the form of a 3-1 defeat to one of the top sides in the German Bundesliga. The atmosphere in the stadium felt like one in which we as a fan base knew we weren’t going to see much more of this side for the time being, and the support that we gave our players was exceptional in my opinion. Bayer brought a very healthy support too (at least I hope all of them were healthy) and they would have come away from the game feeling a lot happier about the result than we obviously would be, but I certainly didn’t feel too downhearted by the whole thing. Now, this could partly be down to the hunch I had at the time that the second leg was not going to be taking place next week, but even with that you have to put the result in context of the levels we were up against. Leverkusen are absolutely the best team that we have faced for a very long time, and they looked like a team who could have upped their game a few levels as well.
We had a goal to cheer, the largest capacity in Europe that night, and a given the fact that the Europa League could well not be completed this season, we got to applaud the joint winners of the Europa League this season. I can’t wait to see our players in the Champions League next season!
Here are your player ratings from last Thursday.
Allan McGregor – 6.8 (6)
No goalkeeper can be happy about conceding three goals in a game, but by no means did Allan McGregor have a howler. This was always a tough ask for our keeper, but despite allowing three past him, he still managed to make some important stops to keep the Germans in sight. And there is no blame that can be placed on him for any of the goals either, in my opinion. The penalty is…well, a penalty, it’s always a coin toss on what a keeper can do in that situation. The second goal is a great volley where he is in all likelihood unsighted and the third goal is a wonder strike. Nevertheless, McGregor will be annoyed by these concessions, because he is a winner and that will never change.
James Tavernier – 6.5 (7)
We had our captain back in the defence, and given some of the recent performances from him there would have been some amount of pressure on him. But I have to say I thought Tav did a really good job in handling the wide men of Bayer, both of whom are ridiculously fast, but neither of them had the desired impact that they would have hoped for and that was down to our full backs and how they handled them. There was also an assist from a really good corner, and his subbing off was met with a much warmer reception for him than our last home game. There is a very understandable frustration though, given that he can go from doing as well as he did here to being oh so very poor against lesser sides. I would say, though, that the enforced on football is probably just as well for our right side given Tav could have been out for a few games given the recurrence of his knock.
Connor Goldson – 6.7 (7)
I wanted to keep an eye on Goldson a lot during this game, because I was convinced that he would have a good game. And he did. He was a lot more secure defensively, put in more solid challenges and stood up well to the test that he received from Kai Havertz and latterly Paulinho. This wasn’t a Ballon d’Or level display, of course, but it was much more like the thing. And you could again ask that question of why we get a reversal of what we would expect in terms of performances, but it’s this underdog tag that I think suits Connor Goldson better. When he is up against a higher level of quality, he wants to prove himself and will put in a really good shift, where as when he is up against your bog standard SPFL strikers, he doesn’t have the desire to prove himself and thus is more prone to silly mistakes.
George Edmundson – 6.1 (7)
His first senior goal for Rangers on what was a mixed night for ‘The Fridge’. The young English centre back made his way into Rangers pub quiz history when he was the player at fault for what was our first ever decision that was influenced by the use of VAR. I liked the fact that we at least got to see the replay on the screens following the award of the spot kick, and in all fairness the rules have been followed correctly. Still, BOO! But Edmundson picked himself up and, although he wasn’t as obvious in his defensive work as those around him, he scored from the corner with a great header which went in off the post (even the Germans can forget to have men on the posts…) and I was really pleased for him particularly given both his handball in the first half but also the cheeky smile that I saw from him again during the Europa League anthem. But, has he down well enough lately to retain his place in the defence? I would have been very interested to see what line up would have been put out for the Old Firm, and whether he would have been a part of the starting 11.
Borna Barisic – 6.8 (7)
Much like Tavernier, the way Barisic handled the attacking wide players of Leverkusen was really good in my opinion. It was probably a better defensive display, but I didn’t notice as much from an attacking point of view. No pin point crossing, no dangerous corners. It’s maybe a consistency that I am now expectant of and thus that is to Borna’s detriment, but as I say I thought he did really well with handling the likes of Diaby, who is absolutely rapid! Barisic is not a quick full back, I’m pretty sure Tavernier has more pace, so even more credit should go to the Croat for doing as well as he did.
Glen Kamara – 5.9 (6)
Last time out a wrote that Glen Kamara showed “silky skills and dire distribution” and we kind of got the same story again here. The difference though was maybe a bit more in terms of good tackling, but we are in a state of flux with Kamara in that he can do the hard things so well, and yet the easy tasks are the ones he falls down on. Is this a concentration issue? I wonder whether it is a belief issue. I wonder if it’s a case that, for example, he dribbles past a couple of players and is in the final third, but rather than carry on that run into the box and maybe taking on a shot, he needs to pass the ball to someone who he feels will do better, and that pass will always feel more timid and thus the wrong choice. I hope that this is something that the coaching staff are really thinking about how to get the best out of Kamara, because I genuinely believe he is on the cusp on finding his best form, he just needs guidance. This gap could be a blessing or a curse.
Steven Davis – 4.1 (5)
I cannot remember a more visceral reaction to a player than that which Steven Davis received when he, yet again, gave the ball away in a stupid piece of decision making. You would think that he of all players would be able to judge the right kind of distribution but time and again he makes the wrong choice. And it was genuine anger that was emanating from the stands, partly toward Davis but also toward the manager for continuing to persist with someone who has really done very little, if anything, to merit a place in this line up. This is not a tiredness issue, it goes beyond that. I think we are now at the stage that Davis simply isn’t capable of performing at that level. He is still SPFL quality, but I would much rather have had Ryan Jack in this role. There is no real evidence that he will get better. The one good point was him being on the post to clear a header, that’s why you have men on posts!
Scott Arfield – 7.8 (8) – Man of the Match
Great to see Arfield back in the team and he continued where he left off with an excellent roaming display in the middle of the park, as well as getting into more attacking positions and being an offensive threat from deep. He is someone who has truly benefited from time on the sidelines to reassess his role in the team, what he can offer that others can’t, and forcing his way back into the side and making himself invaluable. He is not simply an attacking midfielder of course, he was in and around the two centre midfield players for Leverkusen, again two high quality players, and made their night a lot harder than what it could have been. If we were to build a new team for next season, we will have plenty of time to think about options right now I would imagine, then he is absolutely someone I am having in my first 11.
Joe Aribo – 5.7 (5)
In terms of pressing the back line of Leverkusen, Aribo did a decent job of that. As far as the other parts of his game were concerned, Aribo did not have much joy. This required raw pace to get past the likes of Tapsoba, but that isn’t what he will give you. There was a good amount of surprise from fans pre game that he was selected ahead of Hagi. I was perhaps one of the less surprised at this, given that Hagi as a right sided player seems to be working a lot less than what it should be, that’s a separate debate of course, but Aribo has been good on the right hand side previously so it was worth a shot having him in there. Sadly, it didn’t work, so we can restart that conversation of “where is his best position” and at the moment it seems to be either left back (Roberto Carlos levels of good if he wants) or the “Arfield role”. Problem with both, especially the latter, is you will struggle to usurp the players currently taking up those positions.
Alfredo Morelos – 4.9 (5)
So, I thought at the start the pressing from Morelos was really good. He gave the Germans a lot less time to think about how they wanted to use the ball. It was great from Alfredo, and it was encouraging to see him look like he was really up for the fight. But this seemed to fade as the game went on, and as much as he had opportunities in the second half to score, incredibly unlucky not to get on the end of a ball which was cleared brilliantly by Tah, the performance by the end felt average at best, and that probably being generous. This goes beyond it being an opponent that you up your game for, the form of Morelos goes ways beyond that, and that mentality issue that we have discussed with other players is not a factor with the Colombian, but it’s a different mentality which is the problem at the moment. His head is not in the game at all, and he may well be one of the biggest beneficiaries from the Coronavirus break. A chance to go away, clear the head, and when we do start playing football again he can start banging in the goals once more. I truly hope he takes this opportunity.
Ryan Kent – 5.0 (5)
Again, like the other attackers, the press of the Bayer back line was good and his speed was something that caused their defenders some amount of difficulty. But again, the final product just wasn’t there. Hradecky had quite an easy night in the Leverkusen goal all in, and Kent’s final ball, whether a pass, a cross or a shot, was failing him. Given I want him to be a winger rather than one of the 10’s this next phrase will seem like an oxymoron. I thought he was too wide. He was hugging the touchline a lot, both on the left and the right, and there are games that this would be a correct tactic, no question. But when you are against a back three that are as organised as what they were, we perhaps needed to see more inside runs from Kent.
Florian Kamberi – 6.7 (6)
Quite clearly, fans have taken to Kamberi and the impact he can have from the left, cutting inside, so much so that I think that we should consider him as an attacking mid rather than a striker now. He has the heart for the fight and is far more suited to receiving the ball in the spaces received in the final third that are not afforded to a main striker, which is something I noticed when he has been utilised as the number 9, he looks less happy there. Good speed, good physicality, a good option for us and perhaps he is due a run as the left sided attacker once the games start?
Ianis Hagi – 6.1 (6)
Comes on at around the hour mark and the quality was almost immediately on display. He was utilised more centrally and it is painfully obvious that he must be used here, any time he has the ball in the middle section of the park he lights up and there is a sense something could be on. He is a great playmaker and needs to be used properly now, no more right sided attacker.
Matt Polster – 3.6 (3)
Got torn a new one when Leon Bailey scored his excellent goal which in all likelihood killed the tie, but I think the majority of the players on the park would have struggled just as much. Given he was on so late in the game, this was the only contribution we could refer to for his performance. Even so, there is more evidence that Polster is not looking like the long term answer at this present moment.