It was short-lived, and oftentimes difficult to watch, but Rangers are out of the Champions League. The Scottish side, who were riding the crest of a wave having reached the Europa League final, found themselves beaten on a hot night in Seville on penalties, and where eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt have gone from strength to strength, Rangers have regressed massively. After a poor European campaign, they go down as the worst side in Champions League history.
How did Rangers become the worst side in Champions League history?
The warning flags were there to see from the start of preseason. Despite a rollercoaster journey in Europe, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who had taken over from Steven Gerrard last term after the league-winning manager joined Aston Villa, had struggled in the transfer market. Having lost Calvin Bassey to Ajax, the signings of Ben Davies, Ridvan Yilmaz and Rabi Matondo were hardly the most ambitious. It meant that qualifying for Europe through the play-off places was a less than straightforward task.
It was the kind of night Rangers fans had dreamed of though — the Ibrox floodlights ready to welcome PSV, having taken a 1-0 lead away from Eindhoven, and a 2-2 draw was enough to secure Rangers a place in the group stages, despite many football betting sites not giving them much of a chance.
The draw was a poisoned chalice for Rangers. Regardless of how intimidating their atmosphere was, the squad clearly wasn’t at a competitive level, and that was most notable by their domestic form, with Celtic steaming ahead in the Scottish title race. Having been placed in a group with finalists Liverpool, highflying Napoli and an exciting Ajax side, the worst was yet to come for ‘Gers fans.
While the 4-0 loss to Ajax was far from the perfect start, there were still some positives to take. James Tavernier’s overlapping runs threatened to cause problems in the final third, but Rangers’ issues were more down the other end of the pitch. Their fragility at the back cost them massively, and while no one came blame 40-year-old Allan McGregor in consecutive losses to Napoli and Liverpool, you have to question why he was the man between the sticks in the first place at that level.
When Rangers took the lead against Liverpool in the return fixture at Ibrox, there was some short-lived positivity. However, Roberto Firmino’s equaliser was followed by a flurry of goals from Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Reds, and within the blink of an eye, Van Bronckhorst’s side were 7-1 down and out of the Champions League.
“We need to accept the criticism,” he said. “It’s part of my job, and part of the players’ job. We have to take it on the chin. The whole locker room was quiet, because everyone feels the loss.
“Sometimes when the emotions are very high it’s better not to speak and pick it up tomorrow. We have to change our mentality. We can be very strong, but when we are not there mentally, our levels drop really quick.”
Another loss to Napoli and 3-1 thumping to Ajax only angered the Rangers fans further. James Tavernier’s penalty three minutes from time did little to restore any dignity, but did salvage the goal difference. It leaves Van Bronckhorst’s job on the line following the winter World Cup break and Rangers lacking any kind of identity. Only time will tell how the season pans out for them.