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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Christopher Jack

Rangers are outclassed in defeat as Liverpool ease to Champions League win at Anfield

SOMETIMES you just have to hold your hands up. This was one of those nights for Rangers.

It wasn’t as gutless as the loss to Ajax. It wasn’t as embarrassing as the Old Firm defeat to Celtic or a case of what might have been like being overcome by Napoli.

The Champions League continues to be a steep learning curve for Rangers, though, and Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side were taught a harsh lesson at Anfield. There is no shame in admitting that Rangers are just not at this level and the manner of this defeat – being so second best physically, tactically and mentally - was another reminder about just where the club and the team are in a European sense.

Goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah settled this Group A fixture. Rangers are pointless and goalless and the Champions League campaign they waited so long to experience will be over soon enough.

The return against Jurgen Klopp’s side and the meetings with Ajax and Napoli are largely irrelevant, perhaps even an inconvenience, now as Van Bronckhorst seeks to find solutions to his domestic issues. In that regard, his opposite number knows how he feels.

The mood in the air at Liverpool’s pre-match press conference on Monday was intriguing and indicative. There was a feeling of a team in turmoil, a side suffering a crisis of confidence.

The issues that Klopp addressed were all relative, of course. His side may not look and feel exactly how he wishes it to at present, but a series of stumbles in the Premier League – a run which leaves them already out of contention for the title – didn’t fool anyone in blue.

This was an occasion to savour rather than fear but a glance at the names that lined up here only served to underline the size of the challenge that faced Rangers. This is the best team that they will play all season, and the finest that they have come up against for quite some time.

An attacking line that was headed by Darwin Nunez was supplemented by Salah, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz. Yet it was one of Klopp’s defenders, albeit in a loose sense, that opened the scoring inside seven minutes.

There was almost a sense of inevitability about it. From the moment that Ben Davies blundered into the back of Nunez and conceded a free-kick, it seemed only a matter of time before the ball would be dispatched into the net behind Allan McGregor.

Alexander-Arnold did so with power and precision. McGregor scrambled to get across his goal but the strike was so perfectly placed that he never stood a chance as Liverpool’s right-back produced the kind of moment worthy of the occasion and the stage.

It was just the start that Rangers didn’t want and couldn’t afford. Respite arrived at the break but this was a long, difficult evening for Van Bronckhorst’s side as they chased the red shirts and their shadows throughout.

At times it felt like Liverpool had an extra man on the park. Whenever Rangers got close, it was only for split seconds as the ball was shifted with mesmerising speed and a sense of purpose that Van Bronckhorst’s side just couldn’t live with.

It was quite the spectacle at one of the great theatres of the game. The Rangers fans made a valiant and successful effort to make themselves heard as Klopp acted as the conductor of his orchestra on the touchline.

Liverpool were composed and comfortable in everything that they did. When Rangers had the ball, the lack of quality and composure was evident and repeatedly exposed as they failed to get any foothold in the fixture.

It was all-but done after 45 minutes. The one goal deficit was not a true reflection of the flow of the game or the gulf between the sides as McGregor pulled off a string of saves to keep Rangers in it longer than they could have hoped for.

Nunez would have returned to the home dressing room bewildered at how he hadn’t scored. Once again, McGregor justified his selection and proved that he is still capable of producing at the highest level.

A save low to his right denied Salah after 15 minutes and Diaz was foiled later in the half. In between, Nunez really should have scored after Henderson scooped a delightful ball over the top and found the striker in the left channel.

It was turning into one of those nights for Nunez. Another effort from a tight angle failed to find the target and his final one of the half was superbly stopped by a strong hand from McGregor.

Those interventions ensured Rangers were technically still in it. Liverpool hadn’t blown Van Bronckhorst’s side away in the clinical fashion that Ajax did on matchday one but the difference in levels was just as stark at Anfield as it was in Amsterdam.

Within minutes of the restart, Liverpool doubled their lead. For all their incisive play, it was another set-piece that unlocked Rangers as Leon King bundled Diaz over.

The Kop chanted Salah’s name as he stood at the edge of the area. It soon celebrated as the Egyptian fired his penalty straight down the middle and beat a despairing McGregor.

A fingertip save to divert a Jota strike over the bar continued the theme of the night for the keeper. Ultimately it was to prove in vain.

The clock in the corner ticked away as Liverpool attacked time after time. The game was won and only the margin of victory was left to be determined in the closing stages.

The finale would have been rousing had Kostas Tsimikas not scooped a Rabbi Matondo cross off the line. In the end, it was a mere footnote on the night.

That will be the case for this match in terms of the campaign for Rangers. They are, after all, just not at this level.

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