Ten-man Rangers suffered a third defeat in a row without scoring after losing 3-0 at home to Napoli in the Champions League.
The confrontation of the first set turned to James Sands sent off in the 55th minute for a second warning after he knocked down defender Giovanni Simeone and awarded a penalty kick.
However, despite being called up by Rangers goalkeeper Alan McGregor, 40, who was twice saved from penalties by Peter Zielinski, the visitors finally broke through midway through the second half with a third penalty, which was converted this time by Matteo Politano.
The Serie A leaders won with two late goals through substitutes Giacomo Raspadori and Tanguy Ndombele, as they maintained their unbeaten start to the season.
But for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side, it was their third consecutive defeat in all competitions as they remained rooted at the bottom of Group A ahead of back-to-back games with Liverpool.
Notice: McGregor (8), Tavernier (7), Goldson (6), Sands (6), Parisik (6), Davis (6), Jack (8), Lundstram (7), Arfield (8), Kent (8), Morelos (7)
Subs: Colac (6), Thanks (6), Camera (6), King (6), Tilman (6)
Naples: Merit (7), Di Lorenzo (7), Rahmani (6), Kim (6), Mario Rui (7), Zambo (6), Lobotka (6), Zielinski (9), Politano (8), Simeone (7 ))), Kvaratskhelia (8)
Subs: Elmas (6), Oliveira (6), Zerbin (7), Raspaduri (7), Ndombeli (7)
man of the match: Peter Zelensky
How Rangers suffered their third defeat in the jump
Rangers headed into this confrontation on the back of their 4-0 loss to Celtic and Ajax, prompting Van Bronckhorst to make five changes against one of Europe’s most in-form teams.
One such change saw the attacking start for the first time since March for Alfredo Morelos, and the move almost paid off immediately when the striker bounced narrowly wide from goal straight from a kickoff in what was a pulsating start to Ibrox.
The impressive Zelenskiy fired an effort against the outside of the post just seconds later, but it was the hosts – perhaps spurred by a thrilling pre-match performance for the national anthem, against UEFA’s wishes – who seemed most likely to score in the match. The exchanges opened as Scott Warfield also approached.
But Napoli slowly grew into a competition as the veteran Rangers goalkeeper had to stray from his streak to deny Simeone, and somehow he was still goalless at the break.
But ten minutes into the first half came the defining moment of the match as Simeone – the son of Atletico Madrid coach Diego – slammed into the net, only to be brought down after Sands’ desperate tackle from behind.
Zielinski’s first effort was stopped by McGregor, before Politano converted the rebound, only for a replay after the VAR spotted the goal trespassing in the area.
Rangers made five changes from the team that lost 4-0 at Ajax last week, with John McLaughlin, Glenn Camara, Scott Wright, Antonio Kollack and Malik Tillman all withdrawing.
They are joined by veterans Alan MacGregor, Stephen Davis, Scott Arfield, Ryan Jack and Alfredo Morelos.
The visiting team missed key player Victor Osimhen, who was injured in last week’s 4-1 win over Liverpool, and was replaced by Giovanni Simeone in attack.. Meanwhile, the Italians also brought in Mario Rui instead of Matthias Oliveira at left-back.
Incredibly, McGregor again guessed the right to stop a penalty kick for the Polish midfielder, however, the visitors were awarded a third penalty when Borna Parisic considered he touched Kwisha Kvaratskeli’s shot in the penalty area.
This time it was Politano who was assigned the responsibilities, only about beating McGregor down his left, before Napoli wrapped up the game with two late goals.
Raspadori scored the second goal five minutes from time, then Ndombele – on loan at Napoli from Tottenham – finished third in added time.
Rangers entered their struggle with resplendent Napoli after losing the previous two games to Celtic and Ajax 4-0, results that sparked much soul-searching from coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
The Dutchman’s reaction was to double his size, insisting that he had no intention of changing his footballing philosophy simply on the basis of these two reflections, albeit painfully.
And while his side lost again, without scoring, to the Serie A leaders in Ibrox – the second time they had suffered defeats in their first two Champions League group games – the home side’s performance had improved a lot.
In fact, Rangers were unfortunate not to go ahead in the first half, and despite having to play most of the second half with ten men, they still made 10 shots per game, six times more than they achieved against Ajax in their opening group-stage match.
Now all they have to do is find the back of the net for their next group game, at Anfield on October 4.
Age is not a hindrance for Veteran McGregor – Opta Statistics
- At 40 years and 226 days, Alan McGregor is the fifth oldest player in the Champions League (behind Marco Pallotta 43y 252 days, Gianluigi Buffon 42y 315 days, Alexander Shovkowski 41y 255 days, and Mark Schwarzer 41y 206 days).
- Since 2003-04, Napoli are the third team to take two or more penalties in back-to-back UEFA Champions League (also against Liverpool on MD1), the others are Chelsea against FK Krasnodar in October 2020 and then Rennes in November 2020, Salzburg against Lille and Sevilla in September 2021 .
- Matteo Politano of Napoli scored his first goal in the Champions League in his 14th appearance in the competition. This goal was also his first Champions League appearance since he secured Inter’s assist against PSV Eindhoven in December 2018.
- James Sands is the third American to be sent off in the Champions League after Sasha Klistan (2013 for Anderlecht) and John Brooks (2021 for Wolfsburg).
- Napoli won their opening two group stage matches only for the second time (also in 2016/17). Meanwhile, seven goals is the maximum they have scored after two games in one season in the competition.
What did the managers say…
Rangers coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst:
“Even the red card gave Napoli a really tough game,” he said.
“We were organized and good in the game and the players were trying our best to get a good result.
“We created chances to open the scoring and it was a great fight, but of course with the red card we knew it was going to be difficult.
“Alan saved the penalty twice which was great but the first goal we conceded made me change the way we were playing because we need to attack and you know you’re going to have more space, so in the end I think the 3-0 loss didn’t reflect the difference in quality.”
Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti:
“After missing two penalties, it was important to keep going,” he said.
“They started off strong with their fans as we expected, but instead of shrinking, I felt a reaction.
“I thought it was a balanced game on a lot of points but we didn’t change, we didn’t stop putting pressure on them and I want to thank everyone. It was another good game for me to be on the bench.”
Man of the Match – Peter Zelensky
Napoli have had to come to terms with losing a whole host of superstars lately, however, and one of the players they would be happy to keep is the Poland international.
The 28-year-old, who has been in Napoli since 2016, moderated the show at Ibrox on Wednesday night, showing some excellent touches and close control that the hosts couldn’t live with.
All that was good from the Serie A leaders came out of his boots, and while he spoiled his performance with two saves, he didn’t end up succumbing to his side as they ran out of a comfortable 3-0 win.
Rangers meet Dundee United at Ibrox in the Scottish Premier League on Saturday afternoon, with the match kicking off at 3pm.
Meanwhile, Napoli face AC Milan at the San Siro in Serie A on Sunday at 7.45 pm.