The defense argument was compelling for the Rangers nationally last season, as the sheets were clean, records broken and history written. In Europe, the jury is still out.
As Steven Gerrard’s side advanced to the Premiership title, the numbers spoke for themselves at both ends of the park. The foundations were laid in their own half, however.
At the start of the campaign, the Rangers would surpass a feat that had lasted 114 years. The feat of seven successive blank sheets was the first box checked by Gerrard.
In the months that followed, shutouts would be racked up with relentless regularity and the champions would complete the term as they started as Aberdeen failed to find a breakthrough.
That clean sheet was Rangers’ 26th in the Premiership and Chelsea’s UK record of just 15 goals conceded in a league campaign would also fall.
On the mainland, it was a whole different story, however. Now Gerrard must ensure that history does not repeat itself this term and address their problems in Europe.
The Rangers have been consistently nationally determined for some time now, but they’ve been all too easily exposed when they’ve taken the plunge. The goals against column is surely a source of concern for Gerrard.
The quality of the opposition must, of course, be put in context, but Rangers have now conceded 17 times in their last 11 outings, going back to the clean sheet in Liege who saw them start a run that would lead them to the 16. last of the competition once again.
The only other shutouts in this series came in games with Lech Poznan. In seven others, the draw in Prague being the only exception, Rangers would concede two or more goals.
Results have still been achieved at times, but it’s a pattern that is not conducive to success and the two that were lost in Malmö could still turn out to be the costliest after Rangers got in again. shot in the foot.
Some can be traced to magical moments of inspired opposition, but many were cowardly and avoidable from a Rangers perspective and the latter should be placed in this category as well.
Gerrard would identify Filip Helander in his post-match interview as he praised the “exceptional” Swede for putting in a Champions League-level performance against his former club. Davis, of course, received the applause for his goal which gives Rangers hope.
But Gerrard made it clear that “six or seven” needed to raise their level and he was clearly upset with the way the goals conceded as well as the fact that the Rangers let themselves be separated so easily and so soon after gaining ground. delay.
He would deplore the fact that the Rangers got lost and “never really cleared our heads.” At 2-0, Gerrard could have been forgiven for fearing the worst but his conviction was rewarded because the perseverance of the champions paid off.
Rangers were largely at ease against a side that had benefited from 13 Allsvenskan appearances and two qualifiers against HJK Helsinki to their name. This made the mistakes and the result all the more difficult to take.
The Rangers certainly weren’t dominated, but they could have been eliminated following that inexplicable start to the second half.
At this point, the Rangers were in shock. Had it not been for Davis’ last strike that deflated Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side, the Light Blues could have been practically out of their first Champions League campaign in a decade after just 90 minutes.
When the Rangers failed to deal with the threat on their left side, Birmancevic’s cross was not arrested at the source. At the far post, John Lundstram and James Tavernier were nowhere in sight as the Rangers got caught too close and Rieks punished them with an accomplished finish.
Those lack of focus and positional errors were bad enough, but the Rangers then made them worse when Birmancevic rolled the ball past McGregor seconds later.
Again, there was a catalog of errors in the accumulation. Tavernier’s soft pass in midfield gave Malmö the break, while Connor Goldson couldn’t settle his feet quickly enough as he missed two opportunities to block.
The praise Rangers, and Tavernier and Goldson in particular, received for their Premiership performances were deserved last season, but Gerrard’s side have been too easily exposed a few times in the Europa League. So Tuesday night was another hard lesson.
He’s the one the Rangers need to learn quickly. Such mistakes, especially those as basic as failing to detect a threat or being careless in possession, cannot be excused at this level.
Overall, there was little between the teams on the night and Rangers can look forward to that assessment and the score ahead of their return to Ibrox next week for what promises to be an electrifying night of European action.
The Rangers need to score, but a clean sheet is paramount, especially now that the away goal they scored in the first leg has no further impact on the tie.
The Rangers will attack and defend together, win or lose together. The opportunity is there for more collective success, but only if individual mistakes are stamped out, as Gerrard’s side aim to keep their Champions League dreams alive.