Questions Rangers must answer after exit

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August 12, 2021
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    Steven GerrardSteven Gerrard has issues to deal with at Rangers

    For the first time in 10 years, Scotland began the season with two clubs in the Champions League. Within two weeks, both are out before the play-off stage.

    Rangers followed Celtic into the Europa League after an abject home defeat by Malmo, blowing a 1-0 lead and one-man advantage on the night to fall to the Swedish champions at a packed Ibrox.

    Four games played this season, three painful defeats, with those European losses straddling a Scottish Premiership chastening by Dundee United. Is this a temporary blip or are there bigger issues for Steven Gerrard and his squad?

    BBC Scotland considers four key questions for the Scottish champions.

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    What has gone wrong in Europe?

    After Pedro Caixinha's Rangers suffered the ignominy of losing to Luxembourg minnows Progress Niederkorn in 2017, Gerrard's arrival at Ibrox signalled an upturn in fortunes on the European stage.

    An unbeaten run through the Europa League qualifiers in 2018, and third-placed group stage finish was topped the following season by reaching the last 16 – a stage they made it to again last season.

    But even during those successful campaigns, Rangers did lose an alarming number of goals. Slavia Prague, Standard Liege, Antwerp and Benfica all scored twice at Ibrox last term, with the latter two both also netting three at home. The previous season, Sporting Braga and Bayer Leverkusen also scored at least twice in Govan.

    This month, it's Malmo who have scored twice in both legs. But Gerrard rejected suggestions that individual mistakes were to blame – "we got two restarts badly wrong and paid for it" – and insisted Rangers must learn to defend better as a team in continental competition.

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    Is playing in front of crowds an issue?

    Gerrard called for the fans to help his side overturn their first-leg defeat. In hindsight, he might have preferred an empty Ibrox.

    In the four games this season with crowds, Rangers have lost three. Before Covid-19 brought an end to the 2019-20 season, Rangers won just two of six games in front of spectators. Yet in the time when empty stadiums were the backdrop, Rangers went an entire league season unbeaten and reached the last 16 of the Europa League.

    Obviously, the sample size is too small to declare Gerrard's side have an issue, but the return of fans has undoubtedly changed the dynamic of matches across Europe. Have Rangers' players been slow to adapt to that and paid the price?

    Will they have to sell players now?

    Malmo coach Jon Dahl Tomasson spoke archly pre-match about Rangers "needing the Champions League money" and failing to progress to the group stages will certainly cost them a significant amount.

    Does that mean the Ibrox board will be more receptive to offers for players? After all, managing director Stewart Robertson did say last December they had to "start moving one or two players a year" to follow the club's business model.

    Alfredo Morelos has long been linked with a move. Glen Kamara has suitors. Ryan Kent has attracted covetous glances from the English Premier League. And might the emergence of Nathan Paterson persuade Rangers to cash in on James Tavernier?

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    "This is going to have huge financial implications for Rangers," former Ibrox defender Richard Foster said on Sportsound. "We constantly hear how much debt they are in and how much it's costing per season. They need to sell players.

    "Losing their biggest assets weakens them dramatically. It's going to be a difficult time. I imagine there's going to be a fair bit of movement because they probably can't afford to get through the season without the Champions League money."

    However, another former Ibrox player, Charlie Adam, believes Rangers will ride the storm. "Financially they'll be okay," said the Dundee midfielder. "There will be one or two they could look at selling. Maybe Morelos might go, but I don't think it'll be all guns blazing and people out the door.

    "Ross Wilson [sporting director], the manager and the owners will have planned for not getting in the Champions League. It just changes on what type of player they can bring in, if any."

    Wednesday's Scottish Daily Mail back pageWednesday's Scottish Daily Mail back page

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    Can the Europa League restore esteem?

    Despite falling to beat Malmo, Rangers are at least guaranteed continental football until December. Kazakhstan's Kairat Almaty or Alashkert of Armenia await in the Europa League play-off round – they meet on Thursday with the tie poised at 0-0 – but losing to one of those sides would still leave the Ibrox club in the group stage of the new Europa Conference League.

    With that, Rangers could still enjoy a fruitful season in Europe. They've shown their capability of shining in the group stage in previous seasons and there are, potentially, still big European nights ahead.

    "They're in the Europa League qualifiers," Adam added. "If they can get through that and into the group stage they'll still make money from that.

    "But winning the Premiership will be the biggest thing for them, that gives you automatic qualification for the Champions League next year."

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