Ajax 4-0 Rangers: Ibrox side must wake up from nightmare week

John Lundstram
Rangers’ John Lundstram acknowledges the Rangers support who remained until full-time on Wednesday

“The dream turned into a nightmare.”

Speaking in the immediate aftermath of Rangers’ defeat in Amsterdam, Ally McCoist did not miss. Sadly for the former Rangers striker and manager, neither did Ajax.

Four goals for the Dutch champions found their way into the opposing net, but the strikes which punctured an overwhelmed Ibrox defence inside a jubilant Johan Cruyff Arena are only scratches upon the surface of troubling story on what has turned into a torrid five days for Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his players.

A 4-0 defeat in consecutive games is almost unthinkable for a club the stature of Rangers, but how has it happened? And, more importantly, how can it be fixed?

What went wrong in Amsterdam?

Where do you start?

Sometimes, you just need to hold your hands up. After all, this is the Champions League, a lavish land where money is hurled about like confetti and the glitterati of the football world joust year on year in a dazzling spectacle of footballing class.

However, what will stick in the throats of so many of the Rangers fans crammed into the rafters of the iconic arena in Amsterdam on Wednesday was the galling nature in which this game not just passed their team by, but how their heroes fully helped contribute towards it.

Stats can be dressed up to suit any argument, but sometimes they hit you square between the eyes like a Mohammed Kudus shot. Over the course of the 90 minutes, this Ajax team, supposedly weakened after their manager and best players took off in the summer, still ran the show from start to finish against last season’s Europa League finalists.

They covered 6km of ground more than the Scots, 75 attacks to 15, seven corners to two, 745 passes completed to Rangers’ 219. There were also 17 darts into the attacking third compared to just two for the visitors. Of any stat that Rangers came out on top of, it generally was on blocks, shots saved or clearances, mainly because Ajax didn’t have to do much of that.

Rangers heat map
Rangers’ heat map against Ajax tells its own story

Van Bronckhorst made four changes in the game, three at half time across defence, midfield and attack. That tells its own story. The ball was not sticking in attack, so kept coming back. When it came back, Ajax’s patience, combined with sumptuous movement, left Rangers vulnerable time and time again.

But of the four goals, only Steven Berghuis’ shot, which took a huge deflection off James Sands, could be argued as being unfortunate. A free header, weak defending and a horror back pass were all contributing factors to goals for a swaggering Ajax side which needed absolutely no help.

“We knew it would be tough and it showed today,” Van Brockhorst told BT Sport.

“They want to fight, they want to work hard.

“But against an opponent like Ajax when you’re not organised in the way you should be, it’s going to be really tough.

“I think the level we’re used to and the level we need to reach in the Champions League is a big difference.”

Two 4-0 defeats in a week

Thousands of Rangers fans swarmed to Amsterdam, a spring of optimism in the step of many as they gathered in Dam Square in the centre of town pre-match.

Much of that hope was no doubt clawed together by a jaw-dropping run to the baking heat of Seville and the Europa League final in May, rather than the immediate prelude to this one.

A 4-0 drubbing at Celtic Park was inflicted on Saturday. A painful blow there is no doubt, but to have another so soon after, regardless of the opposition, is going to sting for those fans heading home in the coming hours and days.

“Having two 4-0 defeats on the bounce does affect you, individually and collectively,” midfielder Ryan Jack, whose back pass gifted Ajax a fourth, told BT Sport.

“But that’s for us in the changing room to stick together and, along with the staff, we will fight our way through it.”

The same slack play at the back which was prevalent in the east end of Glasgow on Saturday followed Rangers like a shadow to the Netherlands. While Jon McLaughlin was under the microscope on Saturday for gifting Celtic a late goal, there were several on Wednesday who contributed to their side’s downfall.

Ryan Kent offered little end product, with only one goal this calendar year and just three assists this season, while a question mark is still hanging over Alfredo Morelos. Players of quality from the likes of Antonio Colak to Malik Tillman have been brought in, but the loss of Joe Aribo and Ajax’s Calvin Bassey has been telling. Both were crucial in the surge to Seville, and their absence is being felt still.

“This squad is not as strong as it was last season,” former Rangers striker Mark Hateley told Sportsound. “We are now expected to make a fist of it and be competitive in the Champions League and domestically.

“You have all that with a squad that’s not as strong as it was.”

Ryan Jack
Ryan Jack’s back pass offered Ajax the chance to make it four on Wednesday

Pivotal week ahead

With a trip to Pittodrie on Saturday in the Scottish Premiership and Napoli coming to Glasgow on matchday two of the Champions League three days later, September is already looking like a colossal month for Van Bronckhorst and his team.

Domestically, another slip up this weekend against an Aberdeen team who look to have got their act together isn’t worth thinking about for a Rangers side already five points behind in the title race after six games. That’s before you factor in Celtic have won every game, scored 25 and conceded just once.

When the draw for the Champions League was made, Ajax general manager Edwin van der Sar suggested it would be a three-way fight to see who would finish second in the group behind Liverpool.

But as Rangers’ team bus slipped away into the dark Amsterdam night bound for the airport, Napoli were busy putting four by Jurgen Klopp’s Champions League runners up.

Getting to Europe’s top table has been the dream for Rangers. A sobering wake-up call must be heeded if the nightmare of the last week is to shudder to a halt.

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