The last time Olympique Lyonnais made their way to Govan in 2007 they ended the hopes of Walter Smith’s side of progressing to the knock-out stages of the Champions League with a 3-0 drubbing. Smith and his players consolidated themselves by making the final of the UEFA Cup. Whether Steven Gerrard and his side can recover in a similar fashion after this 2-0 defeat is up for debate, but one thing which is not up for debate is that this was another difficult night at the hands of the French side.
This would be Steven Gerrard’s and his coaching staff’s 50th European match at the helm at Ibrox, and they went into it defending a nine game unbeaten run at Ibrox in the group stages. But Gerrard had warned prior to the game that this was the hardest opponents his side had faced in European competition – add to that the fact that Rangers have yet to hit top gear this season and this always looked like it could be an uphill task.
Rangers have looked disjointed in both performance and personnel so far this season, thanks to a combination of Covid and injuries. Saturday’s win against St Johnstone came at the cost of losing defender Filip Helander until December with a knee injury. The Swedish defender is a crucial part of Gerrard's team and his absence is a huge blow. If such a blow wasn't bad enough, Ryan Kent has become the latest player to succumb to injury, limping off in the 70th minute with a hamstring injury, adding to already significant headaches Gerrard has suffered this season.
The injury to Kent was the final act in what was a miserable night for the winger. The Englishman has struggled to find anything remotely resembling his top form this season and tonight offered no redemption as he was caught in possession twice in moments of slackness which led to both Lyon goals.
The first error saw Kent lose possession cheaply on the half-way line. This allowed Lyon to counter and Karl Toko Ekambi to score with a superb curling shot in the bottom corner on the 23rd minute.
The second error saw Kent caught in possession again just outside the Rangers penalty box early in the second half. This led to Allan McGregor denying Lucas Paqueta, but the resultant goalmouth stramash ended with the ball ricocheting off James Tavernier and into the net to all but end the game as contest.
Despite not being at their fluent best, Rangers did create moments. Joe Aribo, John Lundstram and Ryan Kent all had efforts at Lopes’s goal in the first-half when it was 1-0. If one of these efforts had went in Rangers may have been able to rally and recover, but it was not to be.
Tavernier came close with free-kick in the second-half, and Balogun also came close with a header in the closing stages. But by that point it felt like this Lyon side were to savvy to let any lead slip and that Rangers' race was run.
One potential positive from the game was the performance of John Lundstram. He has struggled to convince since his arrival in the summer, but his performance tonight gave hints at the player we thought we were getting when he signed – although he did allow Toko Ekambi to cut inside to his favoured foot too easily for the first goal.
For Gerrard it was a night to forget, for Lyon coach Peter Bosz it was a case of déjà vu – the Dutchman was in charge of Bayer Leverkusen when they secured a 3-1 victory in March 2020 in the last sixteen of the same competition.
The defeat is the first group stage European loss on home soil since the 2010-11 Champions League defeat against Manchester Utd, and it puts a huge dent in Rangers chances of topping the group – which is now the only way of confimring a place in the knock-out stages.
But despite the defeat, Steven Gerrard was still relatively upbeat in his post-match comments.
"We played some good stuff and created some half-decent openings. Their keeper has made a top save from Ryan Kent which would have got us back into the game at 1-1”, he said.
"We created some decent moments without being clear cut. I think the scoreline is slightly harsh on us. We have made two mistakes in the game, clear mistakes if you like. We've had the ball turned over in the first half and we have been punished for it because good players do that to you.
"I'm a bit disappointed with our defending on the second goal. The players know at this level you will be punished. With all due respect, domestically if you give the ball away in those areas, maybe you will get away with it. But not at Europa League level against high-calibre players. If you turn the ball over while the team is open, you leave yourself vulnerable.”
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic, Lundstram, Davis, Kamara, Aribo, Kent, Morelos
Subs: McLaughlin, McCrorie, Bassey, Patterson, Bacuna, Wright, Roofe, Kelly, Fashion Jr, Arfield, McClelland.
Lyon: Lopes, Emerson, Denayer, Ekambi Aouar, Paqueta, Gusto, Slimani, Caqueret, Boateng (Diomande, 65), Guimaraes.
Subs: Diomande, Shaqiri, Pollersbeck, Bonnevie, Lukeba, Milagres, Cherki, Kelta, Da Silva, Barcola.
Referee: Andreas Ekberg (SWE)
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