Welcome to the latest post from my Rangers FC save. My opening post explained about my Silk and Steel Philosophy that I would be implementing at the club, if you missed it you can catch up by reading it here. This the second post in the series is devoted to our Europa League campaign which started way back in July with the first qualifying round. The board expected us to reach the group stage meaning we would have to navigate through four qualifying rounds that would basically take place during our pre-season.
No sooner had the squad returned from their holidays we were preparing for our first game together which would be against San Marino’s Folgore in the first qualifying round. I was eager to see how the Silk and Steel Philosophy would work in Europe. My default formation is the wide 433 system with a complete forward, inside forward and winger making up the 3 front men but I was and always do have a plan B and plan C which I can switch to if things are not going our way. It’s nice to play a good style of football but sometimes you need to mix it up a bit and dig in which you will see later in this post can be satisfying when you set your stall out to deny your opponent the room to play. I know save game updates are not everyone’s cup of tea but if you like them this Europa League journey might just wet your whistle…….
Europa League 17-18 1st Qualifying Round
I prepared the side to play Folgore in our Silk and Steel 433 formation with Alfredo Morelos leading the line in a Complete Forward role supported by Jamie Murphy on the left playing in an attacking Inside Forward role and Portuguese Daniel Candeias on the right in a Winger support role. To be honest I did not know what to expect from our opponents however after after just 20 minutes of the 1st leg the tie was dead and buried with us racing in to 6-0 lead that included an hat-trick from Central Midfielder Jason Holt. By full time we had hit 14 goals in a 14-0 win to take in to the 2nd leg and whilst it was an easy tie it enabled us to increase morale and confidence. *Star Man Jason Holt
The 2nd leg was no different with us winning 16-0 with just one change to the starting line up that saw Josh Windass come in for Daniel Candeias and it only took 4 minutes for Windass to make his mark with the opening goal of the game. Alfredo Morelos hit 5 to go with his 3 from the 1st leg. Not a tie that taught me a great deal about our tactic but definitely nice to see the confident manner in the final third. *Star Man Alfredo Morelos
Europa League 17-18 2nd Qualifying Round
The draw took us to Austria to the Merkur-Arena to face Sturm Graz and a much tougher tie than the previous round. I picked a strong side with just Candeias coming in for Windass going with the 433 that we have started pre season with. 520 Gers fans made the trip to Austria and must have feared the worse with our hosts starting well and going 1-0 up after 22 minutes with Thorsten Rócher finishing a nice sweeping move.
The goal sempt to wake us up with both Dorrans and Wallace coming close before Jason Holt equalised in the 35th minute after great work from Jamie Murphy cutting in from the left flank before realising Holt to put the game level at the break. It was one way traffic in the 2nd half with us creating a number of chances with Rossiter pulling the strings with Dorrans in the middle of the park. Just when the game looked like finishing all square Dorrans split the Austrians defence with a peach of a pass for Morelos to bury the ball in to the roof of the net to give us a good 1-2 away win. *Star Man Graham Dorrans
We were dealt a blow in the days leading up to the 2nd leg with both right wingers Candeias and Windass being ruled out with injuries leaving me with a choice of either picking Michael O’Hallloran or Graham Dorrans in the right wing spot resulting in me opting to play the inform Dorrans who repaid my faith in him by providing a cross field pass for Jamie Murphy to run on to and and put us 1-0 up on the night but the 48’000 plus crowd was silenced just 2 minutes later when Marvin Potzmann levelled for the Austrians.
The second half mirrored the 1st leg with us taking the game to our Austrian counterparts but they were holding firm and came close themselves with a swift counter attack in the 80th minute. I changed our mentality to defensive and it worked a treat we looked comfortable in stopping our opponents from breaking our defensive line and finished the game with a further 2 shots that the visiting keeper turned around the post. The Czech referee brought the game to an end with us sharing the spoils on the night 1-1 going through to the next round with a 3-2 aggregate win. A more testing game for us but I am pleased with the football we are producing so far. *Star Man Jamie Murphy
Europa League 17-18 3rd Qualifying Round
When the draw was made I was in no doubt that drawing the Greek side Panithinaikos would be nothing short of difficult with the away leg coming just 7 days after our last round victory it was time to prepare for the game on the training ground were I took the decision to focus on defending because I know we can threaten in the attacking third but we need to focus on the Steel side of our philosophy. Towering centre back Aden Flint had now joined us on loan but I decided to go in to the tie with Bruno Alves and Fabio Cardoso our starting pair in our previous 4 games.
In fact our starting line up in Europe was looking very familiar. The away legs in European competition are what I really enjoy and this game was no different, I stuck by our 433 formation and went with a counter mentality. We started the game on the front foot to the delight of the 500 odd Gers supporters tooked away behind the goal that we were attacking amidst a cloud of smoke from the Greek ultras who had managed to get their flares in to the stadium but it was the Scottish contingent who were celebrating after Alfredo Morelos finished a flowing move in the 9th minute of the game. The Columbian forwards goal was the only goal of the game giving us a 1-0 win. I was pleased with the defensive performance with our midfield in particular controlling the game but things could have been a whole lot comfortable if we had converted the chances that we created. It is also of note that our keeper Jak Alnwick produced a superb point blank range effort just after the break. *Star Man James Tavernier
A clean bill of health and an unchanged side for the 2nd leg in a bouncing Ibrox Stadium. We seem to be starting games well and got the reward for a positive start when winger Daniel Candeias scored a stunning solo goal in the 21st minute. We continued to press and doubled our lead when Jason Holt headed home a Jamie Murphy cross. We were in complete control of the tie when Alfredo Morelos scored an injury time tap in to give us a 3-0 lead at the break. I told the boys to guard against complacency at the break and brought Claud Adjapong on to replace the injured Tavernier. We continued to dominate the Greek side who I think had given up the ghost, we added a fourth goal in the 89th minute when Kenny Miller breached the defence to round off a very good 4-0 performance. *Star Man Graham Dorrans
Europa League 17-18 Playoff Round
I had to smile when the Playoff round draw paired us with Portuguese club FC Braga a team who I know inside out thanks to a previous save with them. With my inside information I know our trip to The Quarry would be a difficult one against a technical side. I release the team sheet with one change, veteran World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo comes in for the injured Jordan Rossiter. This is Pirlo’s first appearance for us after joining on a free transfer on a 10 month contract although the Italian is due to retire in December.
Braga started well and took an early lead when Paulinho carved our defence in half with a one, two that resulted with us falling behind. We responded well though with Pirlo and Holt combining well to feed our very own Portuguese winger Candeias to put us on level terms a vital away goal which was doubled just 3 minutes later when Fabio Martins turned in to his own net after good work from Pirlo. Half time we hold a 2-1 lead in the Quarry and I use the don’t get complacent team talk and send the boys out for the 2nd period. The 2nd period is scrappy but we get another slice of luck when Andre Lukic scores another own goal to put us 3-1 up. Morelos is proving a menace and comes close to getting us a fourth before Paulinho grabs a second for Braga with 5 minutes remaining which gives Braga a huge lift resulting in us being glad to hear the final whistle. *Star Man Alfredo Morelos
I make two changes to the starting line up from the 1st leg with Aden Flint coming in for the injured Fabio Cardoso in the centre of our defence and Jordan Rossiter returning in place of The Metronome Andrea Pirlo. Braga start the strongest and level the tie on aggregate when Hassan gives them a 12th minute lead but we respond well with Graham Dorrans levelling in the 19th minute but this game is far too open for my liking and we are struggling to contain the Braga front 3 who are running us ragged at the back and come close to a 2nd when Xadas shows his quality to be denied on the line by Tavernier.
The visitors get their reward when Paulinho fires home a 30 yard free kick that leaves Alnwick helpless to prevent it. 4-4 on aggregate and Braga have the momentum and looking more likely. I am thinking I need to get the boys in at the break and shake them up a bit and then a moment of magic from Graham Dorrans creates an opening for Jordan Rossiter who calmly places the ball over the top of the advancing Brazilian stopper Mathaues to score a superb equalizer, what a goal and what a time to get it, 2-2 at the break and 5-4 to us on aggregate.
I tell the boys I am not happy with their performance to get them motivated for the 2nd half. Although we lead on aggregate Braga are looking good on the night but we are holding firm and starting to play ourselves and come close when Candeias hits the post. Candeias is starting to turn the tie and puts in a lovely ball for Morelos to finish surely but no he blasts wide which is his final contribution of the night with Kenny Miller replacing him in a double substitution that see’s Ryan Jack replace the tiring Rossiter who gets a standing ovation from the appreciative Ibrox faithful who recognise is performance on his return to the side. Braga seem tired and we manage the game out to advance to the group stage but this was no walk over against a good side. *Star Man Graham Dorrans
Europa League 17-18 Group Stage Matchday 1
Myself and the Rangers hierarchy make the trip to Geneva for the group stage draw were we are drawn out in Group H alongside Ajax, Hertha Berlin and PAOK in what I perceive to be an half decent draw in that I feel we can get something out of the group. The fixtures are organised and we start at Ibrox on Matchday 1 with the visit of Ajax Amsterdam the group favourites and last year’s runners up.
I get the team report on Ajax and notice that they are using a 3-5-2 system that prompts me to go with a 4-4-2 that we have used only once before in a league game but my idea is to try and occupy the Ajax central defenders using Alfredo Morelos in a Complete Forward role with Eduardo Herrera playing in a False 9 role to try and disrupt the Ajax backline with his movement. I was forced in to bringing Adjapong in for the injured Tavernier and Aden Flint keeping his spot for the injured Bruno Alves. I am hoping Flint can out muscle Klaas Jan-Huntelaar. Lee Wallace and Fabio Cardoso complete the back four. The midfield four was made up of Rossiter and Holt in the centre with Dorrans and Murphy out wide.
Ibrox was buzzing come kick off with our biggest gate so far 50,432 waiting in anticipation for this opening group game. Dolberg and Huntelaar combine well but are thwarted by Cardoso. Ajax are dominating the ball but we are denying them any chances other than a couple of long range efforts from both Huntelaar and Kluivert. Holt shoots wide with our first real chance but we make a break through from the goal kick when Jamie Murphy wins the ball from Schone and plays a one two with Herrera who drags Veltman out of position that allows Murphy to put Morelos in on goal, Morelos crashes the ball against the crossbar but responds first to head home and give us a 1-0 lead.
Ajax are hurt but respond well and Jak Alnwick makes a good save from Dolberg to deny the blonde forward an equaliser. Lee Wallace then blocks a shot from Neres before Morelos goes close at the other end after a flick on from Herrera. The referee brings an end to a good first half.
Taking a 1-0 lead in to the 2nd half we miss the chance to double our lead when Mexican Eduardo Herrera shoots wide after more good work from the impressive Jamie Murphy down the left flank. Murphy is tormenting the Ajax defence cutting in to the half spaces creating chances and Holt becomes the latest to spur a chance. Ajax then get the chance to punish us when Aden Flint up ends Kasper Dolberg inside the area which gives the referee no option to point to the spot. Huntelaar steps up and places the ball beyond a diving Alnwick 1-1 after 71 minutes.
I decided to make a change Herrera off and the veteran forward Kenny Miller on in the False Nine role and Graham Dorrans off and Daniel Candeias on. Murphy was on fire and wreaking havoc but the clock was ticking with 5 minutes of added time it looked like ending all square but Murphy had a different idea and released Miller who hit the byline pulling the ball back for Morelos who strikes the ball first time Goooooaaaal Morelos 2-1, The Ibrox faithful lift the roof off, we have won it at the death. A big result for us but we need to keep our feet on the ground. *Star Man Alfredo Morelos
Europa League 17-18 Group Stage Matchday 2
Matchday 2 took us back to Greece this time to the Toumba stadium the home of PAOK and a near full house just under 28,000 creating an hostile atmosphere amid a see of smoke from the flares in the night sky. We revert back to our 433 shape with Ross McCrorie coming in at centre back.
We start well and dominate the ball with both Rossiter and Holt commanding the midfield but it’s Bruno Alves who is rolling back the years stepping out of the back four who comes closest to opening the scoring with a powerful header that crashes against the crossbar. Morelos comes close on the half hour mark before limping off injured to be replaced by Herrera. Then comes a second blow just before the break when Djalma opens the scoring for PAOK with our hosts first shot on target. This game can be so cruel but we have to dust ourselves off and go again.
We get the second period off to a good start but PAOK have nine lives and manage to remain in front until the hour mark when Jamie Murphy scores from 6 yards out game on and then Murphy receives a second yellow which leaves me with a dilemma, do I go for broke or try and hold on for the point. I bring Windass on for Dorrans and play him on the left side of midfield and pull Candeias back to the right midfield position to form a 4-4-1 shape.
We adjusted well and got a break when Candeias scored a super solo goal after latching on to a loose pass putting us 2-1 up with 7 minutes to play. We are becoming the masters of late goals and Candeias again puts the tie out of reach when Herrera puts him in on goal. A 3-1 win puts us top of the group after 2 games with a trip to Germany up coming. *Star Man Daniel Candeias
Europa League 17-18 Group Stage Matchday 3
The first of a double header against 2nd placed Hertha in front of a crowd of 61,942 in the iconic Olympiastadion on Matchday 3. Our schedule of games brought about the most changes to date to my team selection with Declan John coming in at left back, Aden Flint in for Bruno Alves, Josh Windass comes in for the suspended Jamie Murphy and Andrea Pirlo in for Jason Holt.
Hertha made the best start playing some good football but we hold firm and have Alnwick to thank for a close range effort that looked a nailed on cert to open the scoring. Hertha did make the break through though right on the stroke of half time with a nice finish by Darida after a fine move from Hertha who were playing some good football.
Hertha continued to dominate and looked good value for their lead until we hit them on the counter for Daniel Candeias to silence the home crowd in this iconic arena. We looked to have escaped with a draw which I was pleased with however the spirit of this team never fails to amaze me when veteran forward Kenny Miller grabs a last grab winner in the first minute of injury time to maintain our 100% start. *Star Man Josh Windass
Europa League 17-18 Group Stage Matchday 4
We ran in to a mini injury crisis in the build up to this game meaning we were left no wide men so I decided to go with a 4-1-3-2 narrow formation with the Metronome Andrea Pirlo sat behind a central 3 of Rossiter, Holt and Jack with Morelos and Herrera up front.
We dominated our German rivals Hertha in a goalless first period that saw our midfield control the game, in fact how it was 0-0 at the break was a mystery with Morelos unusually missing 2 clear cut chances.
The second period started pretty much in the same vein with Rossiter and Holt both going close but just how we silenced the crowd in Berlin Saloman Kalou silenced the majority of Ibrox just before the hour sending the 2,540 Hertha fans in to a waive of celebration with an exquisite 30 yard strike.
I am loving this Rangers side and just 1 minute later deep lying forward Eduardo Herrera makes the game all square but it was Adjapong who made it with a 60 yard run that finishes with him pulling back a cross from the byline for the oncoming Mexican to bulge the back of the net. The German side looked to have had the stuffing knocked out of them and when Jordan Rossiter made it 2-1 Hertha looked out on their feet. Jason Holt made it 3-1 at the death which rubber stamped our qualification in to the knockout rounds. *Star Man Jason Holt
Europa League 17-18 Group Stage Matchday 5
With qualification to the knockouts confirmed I decided to rest Alfredo Morelos for the trip to Amsterdam but include both Candeias and Murphy who were both back from injury meaning we returned to our 433 formation.
The Johan Cruijff Arena looked splendid with 53,340 supporters packed in with Ajax still in with a chance of qualification themselves. A pretty even first half with chances at a premium looked liked being goalless until Jamie Murphy split the Amsterdamers back line for Kenny Miller to open the scoring in the 40th minute.
After the break though Ajax were rampant and took control of the game and raced in to a 3-1 lead with goals from Dolberg, Huntelaar and Sinkgraven before Jamie Murphy pulled one back for us with 12 to play but it was Ajax and captain Klaas Jan-Huntelaar who capped a fine display with his second and Alex’s fourth to endure all 3 points and inflict a 4-2 defeat upon us.
This game was a reminder that we are far from being the finished article but we are heading in the right direction and learn more about our progress in defeat. *Star Man Jamie Murphy
Europa League 17-18 Group Stage Matchday 6
Our final group game saw a crowd of 48,416 witness us beat bottom of the table PAOK 2-1 at Ibrox. Again I left Morelos out of the starting line up to keep him fresh in our busy campaign. It was the inform Jamie Murphy who grabbed both our goals with one in each half. I am pleased with the form of the on loan Murphy he looks a good lad and pleased that he is joining us permanently in the summer.
The Greek side did very little to threaten us and it was only our inability to finish that stopped this from being a drubbing and shows how important Morelos is for us.
We look forward to the draw for the 1st knockout round and look back at a very good group stage for us winning 5 of our 6 games. *Star Man Jamie Murphy
Europa League 17-18 1st Knockout Round
The first round draw paired us with Lokomotiv Moscow a draw which we looked at and thought this is not a bad draw that gives us a chance of progressing to the last 16 and the first leg in Moscow was played in front of 21,514 on cold February evening.
Now Rangers have a bit of European history with Russianclubs winning the 72 Cup Winners Cup Final against Dinamo (Dynamo) and losing the 2008 UEFA Cup Final against Zenit so we go in to this game with Lokomotiv determined to be on the right end of the result this time. I picked the strongest side available to me including loanee Josh Cullen who comes in to our midfield 3 in place of Jason Holt who is not fully match fit after coming back from injury.
We start the game in a positive manner with Morelos coming close grazing the post with a first time effort after a Lee Wallace through ball. It was the same combination that unlocked the door with Morelos giving us the lead in the 32nd minute. Lee Wallace playing in the inverted wing back role was enjoying the space Lokomotiv were offering and on the stroke of half time smashed a 20 yard shot in to the goal to give us a 2-0 lead at the break. My favourite half time team talk Don’t get complacent was reiterated in an assertive manner.
Tavernier started the second half exploiting the space like Wallace in the first period and went close with a shot of his own. Dorrans was pulling the strings from the deep lying playmaker role that he is excelling in and it was the number 10 who created our third goal for Morelos who is in a rich vein of form. We let our guard down with 15 minutes to play allowing Mirachuck to score from close range. A solid performance and a 3-1 win to take in to the 2nd leg. *Star Man Alfredo Morelos
I had to bring in Josh Windass for Jamie Murphy who was picked up a knock in our league fixture at the weekend. Lokomotiv started on the back foot with Candeias terrorising the Moscow clubs full back which sempt to be a pattern for the rest of the half along with our back four dealing with anything Lokomotiv tried us with. An encouraging first period but we go in all square at the break.
The second half was again like the 1st leg in Moscow dominated by both our inverted wing backs Tavernier and Wallace who were taking advantage of our superior numbers in the centre of the Ibrox pitch and it was Tavernier who instigated move that saw Morelos score his 13th goal of our European campaign to date and the goal that earnt us a 1-0 win on the night and put us comfortably in to the last 16 draw. *Star Man Daniel Candeias
Europa League 17-18 2nd Knockout Round
The draw for the last 16 saw us handed a tie against Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic that again on paper gave us a pretty good chance of reaching the last 8 which become more likely after Sparta got two players sent off in the 78th and 84th minutes of a game that we had dominated but failed to find the net until Candeias netted the opening goal after Eldar Civic got his marching orders for an horror tackle on Lee Wallace.
We punished Sparta again after an other bad challenge saw Mihailo Ristic see a straight red in the 84th minute that left the nine men clinging on to last few minutes of the game withstanding a barrage of pressure which they finally buckled when Jordan Rossiter drove in to the Sparta area from deep and tee Morelos up for our 2nd that gave us a good 2-0 win and two away goals to take back to Ibrox. *Star Man James Tavernier
With a 2-0 lead from the first leg Josh Windass came in for Candeias who was suffering from the exploits of the weekends game in the Scottish Premier League but it was from the other flank that got the Ibrox faithful out of their seats when Jamie Murphy more or less put the tie to bed with a goal in the first minute to put us 3 up on aggregate. The Czech club had no answer and when captain Lee Wallace fired home a 30 yarder just after the break Sparta were now just playing for pride and got their noses rubbed in it when Murphy added his second on the stroke of full time to give us a resounding 3-0 win on the night and a 5-0 aggregate win and a ticket in to the last 8 of the competition. *Star Man Jamie Murphy
Europa League 17-18 Quarter Final
When the draw was made I thought to myself that we would have to show more steel than ever but I did not realise the extent of the Steel that this squad posses and the first leg of this quarter final first leg away to Athletic Club is the perfect example. In the build up to the game we suffered the loss of Graham Dorrans, Ryan Jack and Jordan Rossiter to injury meaning that we had lost the heart beat of our midfield and down to bare bones that meant we would start 17 year old Cameron Palmer alongside Jason Holt and loanee Josh Cullen in our midfield.
The 2,508 travelling Gers fans took their seats in the New San Mamés in a crescendo of noise made by the 50,750 expectant crowd. The hosts started the game well pushing our defensive line back with a barrage after barrage of close control football of which had us on the back foot but typically we held firm until we got hit on the counter after our first real attacking phase of play in the 18th minute when the lively Iñaki Williams fired home from 10 yards to send the Basque crowd in to raptures. We had a game on our hands and nearly went 2 behind when Jak Alnwick gifted Williams with a golden opportunity to make it 2 but the forward blasted an open goal wide. Cardoso was playing well at the heart of our backline and we somehow got to the interval just one down.
I just had to tell the boys at the break that I was not pleased with the performance to get a reaction because we were coming under so much pressure. We started better but Munian and Williams were on fire and it took blocks from Tavernier and McCrorie to keep us in the tie then disaster struck when the already booked Lee Wallace put Munian in to block J with an horror tackle on the hour mark we would have to play the rest of the game a man down. I took Cameron Palmer off and brought Declan John on at left back and changed our mentality to Contain in an effort to reduce the damage.
For the next 15 minutes we soacked up wave after wave of the red and white Athletic attacks which seemed to demoralise the Basque side because we started to play like we had just woke up and then Alfredo Morelos latched on to a ball from Jason Holt and it was 1-1 bloody hell we were on level terms but that was short lived when Raúl Garcia restored the Basques lead with 3 minutes left on the clock, I was devastated but we had our away goal let’s just see the game out but Alfredo Morelos had a different school of the thought, the Columbian forced his way through the Athletic rearguard to smash the ball in to the roof of the net and silence the home crowd 2-2 with 10 men, what a game of football to set up the return leg at Ibrox next week. *Star Man Alfredo Morelos
A packed Ibrox waited in anticipation for the entrance of their Blue Warriors from last week. I was able to field full strength side after resting players over the weekend. Graham Dorrans returned to the side and Declan John came in for the suspended Wallace.
We got off to a flier when the in form Jamie Murphy put us 1-0 up after just 3 minutes after a through ball from Tavernier. We looked slick and a different side that spent most of the first leg defending and with the Ibrox faithful behind us we got a second on the half hour mark courtesy of the other wing when Daniel Candeias struck from just inside the area 2-0 and in control at the break. Guard against complacency and we are 45 minutes away from a European Semi Final.
If the first leg was all about Steel then tonight we are showcasing the Silk of our philosophy with some excellent build up play with both Tavernier and John looking like they came out of the Guardiola text book of Inverted Wing Backs along with Dorrans and Cullen we were dominating the centre of the park but it was Daniel Candeias who was sterling the show and he got his second goal of the night to put us 3-0 up after 67 minutes. Surely we were on our way to a Semi Final.
I took Murphy and Morelos off with ten minutes to play and brought both Windass and Miller on to see the clock down and spare injury to our leading scorers so far this season. The Basque club got a consolation with 5 minutes to go through Raúl Garcia but that’s all it was with the Gers celebrating long in to the night.
We played well tonight but it was the backs to the wall performance in the 1st leg that was key to this clash. *Star Man Daniel Candeias
Europa League 17-18 Semi Final
The Semi final draw was made in Geneva with us anticipating a battle of Britain clash but former German International Lother Mathaues drawing the away team pulled us out with a tie against the Dutch club PSV Eindoven with the first leg to be played on Dutch soil.
The Phillips Eindoven Arena was at capacity with 35,000 fans looking forward to the forth coming clash. We lined up in our usual 433 shape with us at pretty much full strength barring the injured Rossiter in midfield. PSV also went with a 433 variation. I had to pinch myself here we are in our first season together and we are 2 games away from a European final.
Our hosts started the game the better with Lozano and Maxi Romero both going close in the first 10 minutes, the Dutch side looked dangerous and had us on the ropes but we withstood the pressure and slowly crafted a chance of our own when Josh Cullen found himself with the goal gaping but he blasted wide, why could that chance have fell to Morelos? PSV punished us within minutes with the outstanding Maxi Romero giving them the lead after great interplay between Lozano and Van Ginkel. PSV continued to dominate and when the half time whistle went it was music to my ears, PSV were playing quality football with their front three of Lozano, Romero and Bergwíjn running us ragged.
I am sure most of the FM brigade have been in this position before do we go for an away goal or do we baton don’t the hatches and try to stay in the tie for the 2nd leg. Now my instinct tells me to have a go and get that away goal that served us so well in this campaign but my footballing brain on analysis of the first half tells me it’s time to dig in and display the steel that we are promoting alongside the Silk.
I can tell you now in all the years I have played FM this is the longest half time break that I have ever had, I was torn between decisions but we were not playing well and PSV were on fire. I took the decision to go backs to the wall and look to contain our hosts in the hope that we could go back to Ibrox with a chance of reaching the final. I blast the team with an aggressive “I an not happy with your performance” and switch to the contain mentality.
We kick off attacking the goal to our right that 1750 Rangers supporters are housed in the far corner and actually go close with a Dorrans shot that is saved by Zoet and then it was the Lozano show but we manage to dig in and frustrate the Eindoven crowd by having numbers behind the ball it’s not pretty but it’s fantastic to watch when you are in the zone. We display great character and reduce PSV to numerous long range efforts whilst the clock is ticking. I bring Flint on for McCrorie who is losing the battle with Maxi Romero the dynamic Argentine forward.
Ouch within a minute of coming on Flint goes in with a challenge on Maxi which leaves the PSV number 10 with an injury but no card for Flint, this is a proper cup tie and we are scrapping like the best of them. PSV for all their dominance are now looking tired and we come close to an equaliser but Dorrans is denied by Zoet again. Maxi Romero does not look the same player after Flints introduction or more to the point his challenge. We are in to injury time and the gamble to contain is paying off and the final whistle blows, what a game I have never celebrated a loss in this manner before, we were on the rack and fought right to the very end, I am so proud of these boys roll on Ibrox and the return. *Star Man Josh Cullen
I had a lot of thinking to do after the 1st leg, whilst our backs to the wall performance got us out of Eindoven trailing by a single goal the reality is that Maxi Romero ran us a merry dance with Lozano and Bergwíjn plus we need to find at least 2 goals of our own in the 2nd leg whilst guarding against the dreaded away goal rule.
I take the decision to go with a back 3 of Cardoso, Bruno Alves and Flint combining experience, power and guile all playing in the ball playing defender role with the intention to get the ball forward at every opportunity flanked by two complete wing backs in the shape of Tavernier and Wallace who will provide the width tonight after I have left our 2 most consistent performers out of the side in Murphy and Candeias.
In front of the defence I put McCrorie in playing the half back role with Holt in a mezzala role and Cullen being the ball winning midfielder. Up front I chose the combination of a complete forward and defensive forward with Morelos and Miller respectively. Wes Foderingham replaced the injured Alnwick in goal changing from a keeper on defend to a sweeper keeper. We would look to break up the play centrally and counter with energy.
The board and fans must have thought I was going mad with a complete change in shape but I was reacting to PSV and their dominance in the first leg.
Ibrox was brimming in anticipation with just under 51,000 awaiting the 2nd leg of this Semi Final. PSV named an unchanged side it was time to do battle.
We were underway and both Holt and McCrorie were straight in to action with the latter cutting out a pass in to Maxi and then realising Holt who dribbled to the edge of the PSV box before firing a shot wide of Zoet’s upright. The pace was set and we looked to be winning the battle for possession it was a good start cemented by an opening goal for Kenny Miller who was causing the visitors backline an headache it was a great start with Miller being rewarded for his work after Cullen latched on to a misplaced pass for the veteran striker to hit the back of the net 1-0 and game on PSV were rattled. The Ibrox faithful were treated to a superb half of football from the boys in blue, we did not give our visitors a single sniff at goal in the first period but I know this game can come back to bite you in a flash. Half Time 1-0 Agg: 1-1
The second half got underway and whilst we had total domination we could not find the second goal but it was not for the want of trying, at the other end we looked solid not giving PSV a sniff and for all their excellence in the 1st leg they looked a patch of that side on the night and then we got the breakthrough we deserved scoring a lovely worked team goal that involved 12 passes from back to front before Morelos tapped in to put us 2-0 up after 63 minutes. We were on track but haunted by the thought of an away goal that would put PSV through.
With this thought in mind PSV broke Maxi Romero held the ball up on the edge of our box and then teed Hendrix up for a shot destined for goal but Foderingham tips it round the post for a corner…. great save. The clock ticked down, the corner swung in by Lozano headed clear by the towering flint but only to the feet of Hendrix again who switches the play with 90 minutes on the clock to to the on rushing Aries who who controls the ball out wide my heart is now beating faster and faster Wallace dives in free kick and a yellow card with 4 minutes of injury time to be played. Lozano is over the ball just inside the touchline PSV send the big boys up its now or never. Lozano floats the ball in McCrorie gets his head to it Tavernier is first on to the second ball and plays it square to Holt who picks Morelos out with a peach of a pass we are in here Gooooooooaaal Alfredo Morelos 3-0 yes 3 bloody nil we have done it, what a game we are in the Final yeeeeessssss, I can’t fault this Rangers side what a run we have come through 22 games yes 22 games to get to the final what a night. *Star Man Alfredo Morelos
Europa League 17-18 Final
Here we are in the Groupama Stadium the new home of Olympique Lyon also known as Stade de Lyon stadium and the venue for the 2018 Europa League Final were we play Spanish side and serial Europa League winners Sevilla FC.
Sevilla eliminated Liverpool in the Semi Final which is a shame because a battle of Britain would have made an excellent story and ending to a an already super run that we have undertaken.
My idea was to revert back to our 433 system however my hand was forced when both Jamie Murphy and Daniel Candeias suffered injury just 3 days prior to this game against Hibernian in our final league game of the season which ideally I would have liked to have rested our starting line up for this game but without giving anything away I needed to play a strong side (Spoiler Alert). So instead we went in to this game not in the best shape but that’s football and on we go.
We went with the same 352 formation that we used in the 2nd leg against PSV but with Alnwick returning in goal and Adjapong in for Tavernier.
An army of 29,643 Gers supporters made up the 59,286 attendance and I was hoping we could give them a night to remember against an opponent who were playing in their fourth final in five years.
We got the game underway and looked to settle well with 64% ball retention after 20 minutes of the game without causing the Sevilla defence any trouble and then the Spanish side took control of the game and got the opening goal in the 24th minute through Luis Muriel headed home 0-1 and we were starting to look in trouble with Sevilla creating chance after chance we looked like we had never played together before. We manage to get to the break trailing by the odd goal.
“I am not happy with your performance” the boys look motivated and we go out for the second period looking to turn the game around but it’s just not happening for us tonight and we are lucky not to go two down with Ben Yedder hitting the post. Come on boys dig in goes through my thoughts. Holt tries to put Morelos in but the Sevilla backline hold strong and then Wallace goes close with a drive. We reach the 75th minute and start to play we are coming back in to the game but the clock is ticking and I have to make a double change with ten minutes left on the clock Tavernier on for Adjapong who is dead on his feet and Windass on for Cullen who like Adjapong has gave is all.
We win a free kick some 40 yards out Holt drives it at the Sevilla wall and the Spanish side break away but McCrorie wins the ball on the edge of our area and releases Wallace on the left who cuts inside a plays Morelos in time seems to slow down Morelos pulls the trigger Goooooooal we are level in the 83rd minute 1-1 And the dream is back on.
I think to myself is our name on the cup but the thought is short lived when Tavernier up ends Wissam Ben Yedder in the box, Penalty to Sevilla. Ben Yedder dusts himself down and steps up to take the spot kick all eyes are on Alnwick and Ben Yedder, 23 games and it all comes down to this moment come on Alnwick, Ben Yedder steps up and sends the Sevilla fans in to a frenzy by sticking the ball in to the bottom right corner of Alnwicks goal. Sevilla lead 2-1 with 5 minutes to play.
Holt looks to find Morelos from the restart but the Colombian is surrounded by red and white shirts and the ball is cleared long, Ben Yedder the man of the moment picks it up Sevilla play keep ball and we try in vain to win it back a throw in to the Spanish side time is up on the clock, the ball is thrown in to play McCrorie picks it up but that’s it the referee blows his whistle Sevilla 2-1 Rangers. Sevilla are champions for the fourth time in five years. *Star Man Alfredo Morelos
The dream is over we came so close but came up short at the final hurdle but this Europa League Campaign will live long in my my memory. When we started the run back in July I could never have imagined the joy this Rangers squad would give me From San Marino via Austria, Greece, Portugal, Holland, Germany, Russia, Czech Republic, Spain and France this squad have travelled far and wide and have given me one of the best FM experiences that I have ever had and I want more by building on the the Silk and Steel Philosophy that we are embracing here in Glasgow.
- My Favourite Match : PSV Eindoven 1-0 Rangers FC I have chosen this game because of the backs to the wall performance in the 2nd half that I believe was the reason we came through the tie.
- Best Player : Alfredo Morelos 22 goals scored in the competition that is a new Europa League record. Absolute goal machine the reason for me picking him, you just can’t ignore his goals.
- Low Point : It’s got to be under performing in the final which I take the blame for but the reason will become clearer in my next blog post.
Whilst this European journey panned out it opened my eyes to the financial rewards that goes with it especially when you look at the extra matchday revenue these runs can generate when you think we played an extra 11 home games with attendances in the region of 48’000 plus.
SPL Tears 17-18
In my introduction post I explained that we would be implementing a Silk and Steel Philosophy at the club and that I decided to bring 3 players in to the club to improve squad depth in the first team, the players brought were Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer on a ten month contract that did not run until the end due to the Italians retirement in December. I also brought two players in on season long loan deals in Aden Flint from Bristol City and Claud Adjapong from Sassuolo.
We ran Celtic so close in the race for the title that just 2 more points we would have been champions but I made a mistake in resting players for our European run and paid the price come the end of the season.
The First 19 Games
2nd Half Of The Season
Final League Table
The Buffalo was on fire for us this season and if he had not got injured I am pretty sure he would have been the leagues top goalscorer, however 19 goals just 2 behind the leagues top scorers (Dembele and McMillan 21) is still a very good return from 24 starts and 1 substitute appearance add that to his Europa League return and we have 41 goals from the Columbian. I am sure a few clubs will come sniffing soon but I hope to keep hold of Morelos for the forth coming season.
Murphy had an excellent season for us and I am glad that he joins us on a permanent deal in the summer. Playing in the inside forward position Murphy finished the season with 25 goals and 18 assists in all competitions. Murphy also had the highest average performance in the Scottish Premiership with an average of 7.46.
The Scottish player of the year winner and well deserved.
Candeias Player Of The Year
Rossiter Wins Award
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