Déjà vu was the order of the night following another draw against Benfica, which again had the feeling of dropping two points, totalling four drop points over the two ties. Against a very good Benfica side we have shown ourselves more than capable of performing at that level, but lack of game management has once again cost us a famous European night, more so that than costing us a place in the knockout stages which, given the pattern of the group up to this point, looks likely to be secured for us again in the coming weeks. What was different about this game as opposed to the match in Lisbon was the fact that we actually had to hold on for the point for the final few minutes, the momentum of the game really swung in Benfica’s favour after they got their first goal, but up to that point we were excellent at holding them off, more’s the pity that we will look back on the defensive side of the game as being poorer than it was for the majority, but the game lasts 90 minutes.
We started the game superbly going ahead in a “stramash” that could have seen us score any of the three opportunities we had, fortunately we did on the third occasion. For the rest of the first half Benfica had a number of chances but the work rate from our side to keep the Portuguese giants at bay was incredibly admirable. The second half followed a similar pattern before we scored our second with a wonderfully worked finish from a player very quickly becoming a fan favourite. But when Jorge Jesus made changes to really go at our side for the final stages of the match, we did not respond, which ultimately led to our concessions, the second of which was actually a very well worked goal from them. A lot of the angst from our support following the game was around the management team not making the changes to bring on fresh legs and even slow down the tempo of the game. This is something that we have criticised the gaffer for in the past, and one can only hope that the internal disappointment (as opposed to the external pride he rightfully showed post match) will be a lesson for him in the future that, even if you don’t have the exact kind of player on the bench you would want to bring on in a match like this, it is still worth bringing on that substitute.
Here is how you rated our players after our clash with Benfica at Ibrox.
Allan McGregor – 6.4 (6)
A historic night for our goalkeeper as he tied the record for most European appearances for Rangers, matching Barry Ferguson’s 82. Without question, he will beat this record and rightly so, in this modern era he has on a number of occasions where he has pulled off remarkable saves that have helped us progress, none more memorable than against Werder Bremen back in 2008 for me. In this game there was not much for him to do for a lot of it as those in front of him kept the Eagles at bay, and he only made one save in the match itself, but there was not much he could have done in terms of the goals we conceded, a lot of those issues were down to the fatigue in front of him. Frustrating for him, but no harm to Allan here.
James Tavernier – 5.8 (5)
He is human. To be honest, I was beginning to wonder whether this was true! He has been so good for so long up to this game, we were bound to see him perhaps but in a much poorer display than what he has produced up to now. And the truth is this was far below the levels that he himself has set for the side and him personally. It was almost as though his cross bar hit in the move that led to the first goal set him on his way to looking far poorer (had he scored he could have been fantastic!). There was some very uncharacteristic loose passes that could have assisted Benfica, as well as wayward crosses that those who will only ever defend him will insist were meant for those flags in the stand. The first Portuguese goal is one you can point at him for as well sadly. He doesn’t win that crucial header in the area and is in the wrong place when the ball is knocked across, meaning he does get a goal in this game but in the wrong net. You can be more forgiving of him for the own goal itself than the build up, although less forgiving of the overall performance. But he has so much credit in the bank that we have absolutely nothing to worry about with this all the same.
Connor Goldson – 6.4 (6)
The players that Benfica have to choose from as attacking options are real quality, each of them offering something quite different. Whoever he came up against though, Connor Goldson did well in dealing with them in the first half and the first period of the second half. He won the vast majority of his defensive duels, and was just a presence at the back that was calming for both the team and the support. But once we hit that final stage of the match, some bad habits from last season began to creep back in. Turning his back to the ball, being a bit too erratic, we lost our discipline which was part of the collapse, and a lot of that responsibility for keeping that shape falls on Goldson, so it is understandable why, despite having looked good for the first 75 minutes, the last 15 is what clearly stands out.
Leon Balogun – 7.3 (6)
Balogun’s athleticism was a real asset for our defending. The pace of their attack meant we needed him to be sharp and close down as best he could and, like so many, he did his job very well in that respect. The stand out moment was his tackle right on the stroke of half time, with Rafa Silva looking set to shoot having received the ball on the edge of the box, Balogun dives in and executes the perfect slide tackle. If you are being picky, you would call this a recovery tackle given he let his man break into the area, but even so, this was tremendous defending from him. As was the case with the rest of the team, once his energy levels dropped, it was easier for their attack to expose him, but clearly he was the stand out defensive performer in our eyes.
Borna Barisic – 6.9 (6)
His cross for the opening goal was brilliant and it harked back to some of the excellent balls in we have not seen as much of from him lately. When he is afforded the space to do so, he can send a superb ball in. He created the most chances in the game, including assisting our second, and was bringing back the form of old a bit more here. It’s just so frustrating that we cannot have both full backs performing at their peak at the same time. He did a power of work in dealing with his man during the game too, but as was the case for the rest of the defence, he tired to the point that they were afforded more opportunities which ultimately cost us.
Scott Arfield – 7.4 (7)
It takes intelligence to not be tempted to join the swarm of players attacking a crossed ball, and instead wait for the potential loose ball to fall your way for you to bash home. That’s exactly what Arf did which gave us our opener, as he continues to prove that he is so important to what we want to do in the middle of the park, especially in the bigger games. He recovered the ball on a number of occasions as well, surprise surprise, he was running and working his backside off throughout. It’s remarkable he lasted the 90 minutes when you think about it.
Steven Davis – 7.1 (7)
When we were moving forward with the ball it started with Steven Davis doing what he does so well in that position, setting that tempo. A lot of the lofted balls he played would reach his man, his passing in general was very consistent. In the same way as the defence, however, he definitely tired toward the end, and we really could have used a Ryan Jack to come on for the final 20 minutes to be that fresh anchor, that could have seen us secure the points.
Glen Kamara – 8.0 (8) – Man of the Match
So much of the great pressing work which we did all across the game came from the excellent Glen Kamara. He is so adept to this kind of games now, his role is clear, straightforward, but nevertheless vital and it is vital that he is the one to do it. His heat map has him covering so much ground, his bravery in expressing himself more has really pushed him onto this next level that he consistently finds himself at now. For someone who you initially believe is going to be more of a holding midfielder, he is an excellent dribbler of the ball. And he was probably the only player who could hold his head high in terms of those with defensive responsibility late on with some good work in that respect, despite it not quite being enough for us.
Kemar Roofe – 7.9 (8)
Another absolutely superb goal from a player who is becoming one of my favourites in this team. Cutting in from the left and striking the ball from just outside the area, rifled into the net and at that point you are sure the points are going to stay in Glasgow. He could well have got his goal a lot earlier in the game, he is really unlucky not to score the header from the cross from Barisic, which ultimately led to the first goal, but the keeper made a great save to deny Roofe at that point. But there was nothing he could do with this excellent strike, and his hope for more first team games is looking 100% justified, and long may his run of games and goals continue.
Alfredo Morelos – 7.3 (7)
Even though a lot of things didn’t quite come off for him, there is no argument that he put in a superb effort during this match. Particularly in the first half, his pressing and his dropping deep to help out the midfield was superb. He feels like a much smarter player now, gone are the days of him going in a huff on the pitch when things are not going his way, he seems to be always looking and always thinking of how he might be able to help the side. People may look at him and say he needs to do more in front of goal, but if you look at his overall performance, this was another he can look at and be happy with.
Ryan Kent – 7.5 (7)
I thought Kent started the game really well, he looked so sharp on the ball and his movement and dribbling with it felt so much cleaner than it perhaps had been during his dry spell. His running off the ball into areas was great, as was on the ball, and his shot which was blocked was desperately unlucky in terms of not being a goal. Despite no output he again looks far more like the player we know he can be and absolutely love watching on the park.