‘Rangers yet to make presence felt in Champions League’

Allan McGregor produced an array of top saves to keep the score down for Rangers

In the opening minute at Anfield John Lundstram, a Scouser in blue, went looking for a statement tackle, a moment to show his hosts that Rangers were in town and nothing in the 90 minutes to come was going to be easy for Liverpool.

He found his man in the shape of Diogo Jota. A fair tackle but a sturdy one. Jota felt it for sure. In terms of inflicting pain on Jurgen Klopp’s team, that was it for the night. Rangers’ hopes went up in a puff of red smoke after that, their challenge gone in less than 60 seconds.

At 2-0, Giovanni van Bronckhorst sprung his bench and had a couple of moments. Rabbi Matondo had a shot cleared away from his line by Kostas Tsimikas. On the follow up, Antonio Colak had an effort saved by Alisson. The wonder was that Alisson was alive to the danger. He had literally nothing to do up until that point, seven minutes from the end. The fact the gap between the sides was only two goals was bonkers.

That late rally by Rangers was the kind of forcefulness that they needed from the start, a difference sparked by the cavalry coming off the bench. So completely dominant in the game, Liverpool had fallen asleep waiting for Rangers to stir. That was part of it, too.

A Rangers goal would have made the endgame interesting, but they were denied that crumb. Three games and three defeats in this group now, nine goals conceded and none scored. There’s definitely a “be careful what you wish for” element to the Champions League, particularly when you’re cast into a group as unforgiving as the one Rangers find themselves in. Nobody said this was going to be anything other than savagely difficult. It’s actually proving harder than that.

‘Rangers throw down rope to help hosts climb to victory’

So much about their performance had to be foot-perfect to survive and so little was. The fear was always that Liverpool would find themselves after poor displays of late, that they would climb out of the rut they’ve been in for too long.

That’s exactly what they did, but the reality is that Rangers threw down a rope to help them out of there. Wasteful in possession and constantly inviting Liverpool on to them with their errant passing and their inferior physicality and their total lack of threat for 83 joyless minutes; if it wasn’t for Allan McGregor’s excellence it would have been brutal – or more brutal.

McGregor, in his 41st year, turned in one of the most, if not the most, outstanding goalkeeping performances in his club’s Champions League history. The only man causing Liverpool a shred of angst when the game was still theoretically in the balance was McGregor, the only one registering frustration on the faces of the home team was the colossus between the sticks.

He saved from Darwin Nunez and Mo Salah, then saved from Nunez once more, then denied Luis Diaz, then got the better of Nunez again and again. Some of the saves were straightforward enough, others were very impressive. All of that lot came in the first half. How Rangers got to the break only trailing by a free-kick was a McGregor-inspired miracle.

Pitch chalkboard
Allan McGregor was by far the busier of the goalkeepers at Anfield

Nunez turned away in something approaching disbelief after one of his saves. Early in the second half, McGregor made a terrific fingertips intervention from Jota and now it was the Portuguese who looked at the Scot in confusion and possibly awe. It was still only 1-0 and it was ludicrous.

When Salah stepped up for his penalty you half expected McGregor to save it, a humungous leap to the right-hand corner to paw away a thunderbolt, a low dive to his right to push away a daisy cutter, Salah on his knees wondering what on earth was happening. It wasn’t to be, but it was fair enough. A second Liverpool goal was the least they deserved. The only blight on their night was that two wasn’t five and six.

Can we be critical of Rangers for losing to Liverpool?

Actually, yes. There’s a financial gulf as wide as the Mersey between these two clubs and a quality gap twice as wide again, but Rangers never showed up with enough intent, aggression and bravery in their play. Did they work hard enough? Not all of them did. Malik Tillman might want to review his performance more than most. Time and again his work rate in retreating to lend resistance against the red tide was nowhere near good enough.

Did they look like a team who believed themselves capable of making a match of this? They displayed little or none of that, until right at the end. James Tavernier and Borna Barisic looked terrified to go forward for fear of what might happen if Liverpool countered on them. Rangers existed in the match. That’s all. Beyond McGregor, few of them had anything to remember this by.

Liverpool rediscover their magic touch

Liverpool got some of their mojo back. Given that every aspect of their game has been under the microscope since the beginning of the season, it might have been understandable had Liverpool appeared at the start in white laboratory coats rather than their famous red tops. This is a team that’s been the subject of heavy analysis, everybody putting forward a theory about what has ailed them.

Not rocket science, really. An obvious drop-off in intensity, the quality that propelled them to European greatness only a few short years ago. A defensive frailty typified by Trent Alexander-Arnold going AWOL down the right-hand side and all manner of attackers hitting the space he abandoned. Good players making bad errors, men who were towers of strength in seasons past reduced to anxious error-strewn vulnerabilities.

Klopp was desperate to inject authority into his team and he did it by way of a change of system. Out went his favoured 4-3-3, a formation he rarely strays from, and in came 4-2-3-1. He went for Rangers’ jugular by starting Salah, Jota, Nunez and Diaz and the team found their edge through their movement and their energy.

From the moment Alexander-Arnold scored it looked like there were 13 Liverpool men out there and nine or 10 Rangers players. Pressing the visitors to distraction and attacking in a blur of movement you felt like counting the number of red shirts. Were there really only 11?

Rangers will face this team again next week. At Ibrox, they may not win the points but they have to make life difficult for Liverpool at the very least. Another night of tickling the tummies of their illustrious opponents would be met with an unforgiving response from the home crowd.

The Champions League group stage party is at the halfway point. It’s a deeply unforgiving place, but it’s about time Rangers turned up.

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