Rangers are far from the Champions League, and manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst admitted on Wednesday after they were beaten 4-0 by Ajax Amsterdam as they returned to the group stage for the first time in more than a decade. The Rangers manager said his team struggled to compete at the highest level after been beaten by the Dutch giants. Four goals from the Dutch master found their way into the opposing net, punching through an overstretched Ibrox Rangers defence in the jubilant Johan Cruyff Arena and only scratching the surface of what proved to be unbearable for his players.
Rangers’ much-anticipated return to the Champions League was not without its challenges. Ajax controlled the first half with their quick speed and deft passes before slowing up. Rangers must significantly improve when they host Napoli the following week. Edson Alvarez, Steven Berghuis, Mohammed Kudus, and Steven Bergwijn scored goals to defeat the Europa League runners-up. Moving to the Champions League would always be a step up, even after reaching the Europa League final. Rangers started defensive yet tight, hesitant but adequate. On a sweltering night, the floodgates finally let loose. The Rangers’ defence grew tense and sluggish as the waves of red and white attacks crashed against it. Before the second goal was scored shortly after the half-hour mark, Devyne Rensch saw one attempt stopped and another sail wide.
It is simple to criticise Rangers’ sluggish defence. As it is to give Ajax credit for their persistence in tying up their opponents with complicated triangles, off-ball sprinting, and more dropped shoulders than you can throw a stick at. Rangers gave up three goals in the opening period for the second time in a Champions League game and the first time against Juventus in October 1995. They have met Ajax five times in European tournaments, losing each time. This is the most teams they have faced without winning in Europe. In the Champions League group stage, Ajax has won all four of their home games, which is their best run since December 1995 (also four).
After Erik ten Hag left Ajax for United in the summer, many people doubted how well the team would perform. When Lisandro Martinez departed for Old Trafford, their mission in the Netherlands grew more challenging. After refusing to play for Alfred Schreuder’s team to accelerate the transfer, Antony would eventually follow on the deadline day. But Schreuder has since guided Ajax to six straight wins across all leagues. Although United supporters are now eager to see their club bring in more players from their manager’s old squad, followers of both the Dutch and English sides agree that Ten Hag is not missed.