Alfredo Morelos defeats Sparta Prague and sends Rangers to the playoffs | European League
Controlled, authoritative and persuasive. Giovanni van Bronckhorst will face even tougher challenges as Rangers manager – Sparta Prague Provided weak opposition – but this must be seen as a perfectly acceptable start to his term. For good measure, after the Czechs were sent off, it was confirmed that Rangers would advance to the knockout stages of the European League for the third year in a row. It could be a boost to the new manager’s January transfer aspirations.
In an evening full of positives for Van Bronckhorst, the role of Alfredo Morelos was more prominent. The striker, who has not been unreasonably criticized for his level already this season, scored two goals and was a public threat to Sparta’s defense. So far, very good for the previous Feyenoord manager system. Notice It is played with zip, purpose and aggression throughout.
Having only had two days of full training with his players, there was little prospect that Van Bronckhorst would make a noticeable difference from what he inherited from Steven Gerrard in this tie. Rangers opened in their new manager’s favorite formation 4-2-3-1. On Wednesday, the Dutchman spoke boldly about implementing the change, but it seems fair to assume that this will take time.
With that said, the Rangers were sharp from the start. Van Bronckhorst almost got the perfect start. After a trick in the fifth minute by Ryan Kent, which is very important to the offensive trick of the Rangers, Joe Aribo beat a shot from the Sparta keel. This early period of dominance was quickly rewarded.
Morelos’ opening goal was one of delightful simplicity. James Tavernier, the captain, made a pass to Iannis Hagee. The Roman undoubtedly helped through a heavy defense but he did what was needed, sending the ball to his attacker. Morelos scored his 26th European goal for Rangers with minimal fanfare from 18 yards.
Any feeling of malaise in the stands proved to be unfounded. This was due in large part to the small contingent of Prague; 63 per approximate count. Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudila was convicted of racism towards Rangers’ Glenn Kamara by UEFA during a match here last season, which should have had nothing to do with his city rivals. However, the Finnish midfielder’s audible taunts when Rangers went down in a 1-0 defeat to Sparta in September left him feeling uneasy. In this first half, supporting Rangers had a great show on the pitch.
Aaribo should have doubled his lead and instead somehow threw it wide of Dominic Holick’s goal with a brilliant cross from Hagee. Sparta eventually produced some offensive intent within 24 minutes, and Alan McGregor cleverly saved with his two feet off Martin Menchev. In fact, the visitors finished off the period strong, with no more worries for the veteran Rangers keeper. The Rangers were good value for their tie difference.
Kent curled a little straight, two minutes into the restart, after a long pass from Conor Goldson. Sparta’s inability to complete the basics during what happened next allowed Rangers to get in on the second goal.
These were really silly things. Having received a goal kick inside his own penalty area, Philip Bannac inexplicably decided that it was a good idea to try to return the ball to Holec. The problem was that Morelos was dormant. The striker had a simple task to intercept and gesture the ball into the unguarded Sparta net. Laughter mixed with celebration amid the support of the Rangers. Kent should have settled things on a clean serve, and instead Hulk denied the ex-Liverpool man to his feet.
Rangers now have a decisive advantage over Sparta in the first group. It was advantageous, then, that Van Bronckhorst’s men seemed eager to add to their features rather than protect them. Holec used the bottom half again, this time to prevent Morelos’ shot from spinning and pursuing a triple.
The news that Leon had beaten Brondby made the Rangers’ mission simple. Maintaining a clean sheet, which is somewhat of a problem in this campaign, would ensure qualification. Adam Karabic missed a great opportunity to blow Van Bronckhorst’s bubble with a header. McGregor made a superb double save from Ladislav Kritchie and Matej Bulkrap. Ibrox rose to cheer the goalkeeper. At the full-time whistle, Van Bronckhorst stood front and center. Onwards, to homework.