By Lee Clark
“There are no excuses from anyone after this, none.”
The words of Rangers manager, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst after a quite shocking capitulation from his side in the second half at Ibrox tonight, as the Light Blues were hammered 7-1 by Liverpool. This was Rangers’ worst ever defeat in Europe and it’s only the second time they’ve conceded seven in their entire history (the last time was 65 years ago!). A sore one to take but, as unbelievable as it sounds it was a game where Rangers looked like they had the measure of the visitors, certainly up until half time. Going in at 1-1, having restricted Liverpool to a single effort on target (which of course resulted in their goal) was more than acceptable. Let’s be completely honest, last week’s 2-0 defeat at Anfield, whilst valiant in terms of effort, very much flattered Rangers and no one gave these players much of a chance of turning over last season finalists. Getting on the front foot early, as is often the case in big European nights at Ibrox would be key and Rangers did just that, flying at Liverpool and putting a very shaky defence under some serious early pressure. That early pressure yielded results as Scotty Arfield fired Rangers ahead, following great work by Sakala, Colak and Ryan Jack. Ibrox was bouncing and Liverpool were rocked and although they got themselves back into the game, from a Firminio header, it was Rangers who looked more likely as the half wore on and spurned a glorious chance to lead at the interval as Arfield’s close range shot was blocked following great work down the right by Sakala. Despite Conor Goldson limping off injured, there was a lot to be happy about within the home support, as the players emerged from the tunnel but, it was all to go wrong very quickly. After a bright start, Liverpool took control and, after getting ahead, they never really looked back. Exactly where it went wrong in that second half, is still unclear and GVB himself seemed in complete disbelief, mixed with anger post-match.
It is very hard to process and explain at the moment, in fact I can’t (explain it). We started the game really well. We knew the strength of Liverpool, who play a high press but, we were able to get in behind and play on the second ball but, then we lose the goal. How we gave the corner away (is disappointing) If you keep playing short pass after short pass against a team who press they will put you under pressure. This was apparent in the second half too, especially when it went to 3-1. We played short passes far too many times and they have scored four goals from transition moments where we have given the ball away. Of course, with the attack they have they will punish you very quickly.
We need to be clear, no one was seriously expecting victory in either game, against a side of Liverpool’s quality. They have resources many times that out of our own and the gulf in ability is quite apparent but, can that really excuse the manner in which this defeat was served up? At 2-1, Rangers were already up against it. Liverpool had most definitely stepped up a gear but, whilst I would never accuse any Rangers player of ‘not trying’ it certainly seemed like a few had accepted their fate when the third goal was scored. Heads dropped, the sharpness disappeared, passes became really sloppy and above all the fight just seemed to sink right out of us and that is completely unacceptable for any Rangers team. The manager had the good grace to acknowledge that.
At the moment we are feeling the emotions from today and this is something we need to feel because the overall performance and result is not the way we want to represent this football club. For me, in the last 25 minutes, we were not in the game. Not with our heads and the decisions we made. The first half and the last half hour was night and day. That difference level, is far too much at Champions League. Silence is appropriate today. The locker room was very quiet and sometimes when emotions are very high it is better not to speak and process the game. We need to accept the criticism. It’s part of mine and the players job, to take it on the chin when you perform as we did in the second half. (Losing games in this way) is a concern. We have already had big defeats this season.
That final sentence is one of the biggest concerns for many fans right now. The fact the manager is acknowledging it but, it continues to happen, will do little to alleviate any concerns they might have either. This team are capable of magical moments but, too often, too many go into hiding when the going gets tough and again, that’s unacceptable. Losing is part of football and for Rangers it’s something they’ve had a bit of a rude awakening to as we step up to the top table of European football. I wrote after last week’s game that it was largely about what Liverpool did on the night and that there were even a few positives to take for us but, after a complete collapse and mauling, as it was tonight, it’s hard to make excuses for anyone in a blue jersey. Thankfully the manager wasn’t looking for any either and focus must now turn to Sunday and a huge game at Motherwell. Given the upturn in domestic performances, and it has been a big improvement, this fixture seemed like another game where the players could build on two very good wins over Hearts and St Mirren. Now though? It feels very much like a make-or-break day where any win will do.
We have three days to pick ourselves back up. We have to change our mentality, that’s for sure. We can be very strong, as we have shown even in this game but, when we are not there mentality our (performance)levels drop very quickly and we need to improve on that if we are to be successful this season. We have many big games between now and the winter break, it’s important we don’t lose focus.
For me, the manager’s position is still secure and his job shouldn’t be judged on Champions League defeats, no matter how brutal they have been but, I’ll admit GVB is losing the good grace he worked so hard to earn last season at an alarming rate. Most supporters can swallow defeat at this level but, the manner of them is what worries many and the only way to change that is to bring home the league title come May. This will feel like a million miles away for some of our fans but, objectively, we are well in this title race and domestic performances have been at a good level. A heavy defeat against a European elite side doesn’t change that and it’s important the players bounce back immediately at Motherwell on Sunday.