Rangers exit Europa League 80 days after Scottish season was declared closed

Roddy Forsyth
·3-min read
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard looks dejected after the match, - REUTERS
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard looks dejected after the match, - REUTERS

Bayer Leverkusen 1 Rangers 0 (4-1 on aggregate)

When the chronicles impose perspective on season 2019-20 in Scottish football, one of its many peculiarities will be that Rangers still competed in Europe all of 80 days after the domestic season was declared closed. Moreover, Steven Gerrard and his players were bidding for a place in the quarter finals of the 2019-20 Europa League, while having qualified for the 2020-21 version and - to add to the welter of statistics attending their progress - the return leg of this tie was their 18th match in a tournament schedule that began on July 9 last year with a 4-0 win over St Joseph’s in Gibraltar.

They went on to defeat Progres Niederkorn, Midtjylland and Legia Warszawa in the qualifiers. In Group G, Rangers beat Feyenoord and Porto at home and drew with both sides away but lost to a late winner at Young Boys, before securing their qualification at the Swiss side's expense with a 1-1 draw at Ibrox on Matchday 6. Subsequent home and away wins against Braga meant that - with Celtic going out to Copenhagen - they were Scotland's longest surviving European representatives for the first time in nine years.

Such consistency in Europe greatly buttressed Gerrard’s reputation at Ibrox, in contrast to two seasons without domestic success, in which regard he became the first Rangers manager in 68 years to survive such a setback. As it happened, the first leg against Bayer represented the last competitive football played in Scotland before the Covid-19 shutdown and Rangers’ 3-1 defeat looked certain to conclude their interest in the Europa League.

The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic offered Rangers a glimmer of hope in that they had begun their domestic season with a merited victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Saturday, whereas Bayer’s most recent competitive outing was a 4-2 defeat in the German Cup at home to Bayern Munich on July 4. In addition, Peter Bosz was without five regulars for Rangers’ visit. Karim Bellarabi and Paulinho were injured, Nadiem Amiri is in quarantine, while Kerem Demirbay and Mitchell Weiser were suspended.

Rangers, meanwhile, made three changes from Pittodrie, with Brandon Barker, Steven Davis and Filip Helander in for Leon Balogen, Ianis Hagi and George Edmundson. By half-time in the BayerArena the only surprise was that the home team were not ahead, but all they had to show for their 70 per cent share of possession was a vicious drive from Kai Havertz which struck the crossbar.

Alfredo Morelos, subject of much transfer speculation, started for Rangers and perhaps indicated that his mind is elsewhere by keeping his temper when clattered by Charles Aranguiz, who was duly cautioned. Aranguiz redeemed himself 10 minutes after the break by releasing Moussa Diaby for a rifling half-volley to beat Allan McGregor and kill any doubt about the outcome.

Connor Goldson saw a header cleared off the Leverkusen line by Edmond Tapsoba but, in the end, this proved to be a wholly predictable end to a chaotic passage in history.

Match details

Bayer Leverkusen (4-2-3-1): Hradercky; L. Bender (Dragovic 67), Tapsoba, S. Bender (Tah 76), Sinkgraven; Aránguiz, Palacios (Stanilewicz 87); Wirtz (Baumgartlinger 67), Havertz, Diaby (Bailey 67); Volland. Subs (unused): Lomb (g), Ozcan (g), Alario, Wendell. Booked: Aranguiz, Sinkgraven, Tah.

Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor; Tavernier (Stewart 76), Goldson, Edmundson, Barisic; Aribo, Jack, Davis (Arfield 65); Barker (sub Hagi 60), Morelos (Patterson 76), Kent (Jones 65). Subs (unused): Firth (g), Edmundson, McCrorie, Barjonas, Mayo. 

Referee: Danny Makkelie (Holland).