Rangers secured their spot in the last-32 of the Europa League thanks to a 1-1 draw with BSC Young Boys at Ibrox.
Alfredo Morelos’ first-half goal looked as though it would be enough to secure top spot for Steven Gerrard’s men but a late own goal from Borna Barisic put a slight dampener on the evening.
It will have been a tough week for Morelos after Rangers’ 1-0 defeat to Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final on Sunday, where the Colombian struggled. Rangers completed dominated that game and on another day might have won comfortably but for the contrasting performances of Morelos and Fraser Forster in the Celtic goal.
Morelos had a total of nine shots at Hampden Park but did not manage to find the net, including seeing a penalty saved by Forster, failing to capitalise on a key moment handed to Rangers.
The poor afternoon in front of goal did not do anything to harm Morelos’ standing among his Rangers team-mates, with Glen Kamara highlighting just how important he is.
“He has been fantastic all season and he’s scored so many important goals for us in that time,” Kamara told reporters at the pre-match press conference..
“He’s not to blame at all [for the Celtic defeat]. As a team we operate as a collective. He’s been a massive player for us and he’s bailed us out when we’ve needed help.
“You can’t say anything about him, nothing at all. We are happy to have him here and I hope he stays and continues to score goals for us.
“It would be nice for anyone to score the goal that would take us through to the last-32 against Young Boys but you know he’ll be trying. He’s a great player, massive for us.”
And that’s exactly what Morelos did, brushing off the poor performance with a boisterous display on Thursday night. From the start, Morelos looked like a man possessed – perhaps by the demons of the Celtic defeat – eager to right any wrongs.
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He was quick to test Young Boys’ shaky defence with shots and runs in behind, though the offside flag stopped him on a few occasions.
That did not dampen his spirit, however, and the 23-year-old continued to push on like the man who has been so vital for Rangers especially this season.
In 31 appearances across all competitions prior to Thursday’s match, including the Europa League qualifying, Morelos had scored 25 goals and recorded seven assists in 31 games.
It took him 30 minutes to get goal number 26 of the season, in true Morelos fashion. Rangers were putting a lot of pressure on the Young Boys defence and they gave the ball away in their own area. Morelos then capitalised on poor defending from Frederik Sorensen to race in on goal. If Sunday was on his mind, it didn’t show, as Morelos calmly finished past David von Ballmoos to give Rangers a deserved lead having dominated the opening half an hour.
The goal was Morelos’ sixth of the Europa League group stage in six games, only failing to score in the opener against Feyenoord. Adding onto his qualifying strikes, Morelos has now scored 14 goals in 14 European games this season – an outstanding record for a player who has been linked with a move away from Rangers in January.
Alfredo Morelos in the #UEL this season including qualifying:
🔘 14 games
🔘 14 goals
Absolutely stupendous. pic.twitter.com/BLD8JYzowZ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 12, 2019
Despite his temperament having got the better of him at times, Morelos’ goalscoring ability has caught the eye of clubs around Europe. Saint-Etienne and Aston Villa are just two of those clubs touted with interest in Morelos, though in recent weeks they have fallen away with Rangers holding firm.
Rangers’ position, echoed by Gerrard being “100% sure” will certainly not have been helped by Morelos’ own comments in November, when he hinted at a move to a more competitive league.
“So far there is nothing official,” he said at the time.
“There is a lot of speculation of teams things I’ve read on Twitter and stuff, but there’s been nothing concrete, but if there is then I will let you know.
“I just need to continue doing things to the best of my ability and we will see now in the winter transfer window if there’s the chance to make a bigger move, to a much better and more competitive league.
“It would be good for me to keep improving, both for my game and my statistics to keep doing things the best I can.”
For the first time since 2011, Rangers will be playing European knockout football! 🙌
The Steven Gerrard effect 💙❤️ pic.twitter.com/GuLGTd59lu
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 12, 2019
Rangers will certainly be hoping they can continue to fight off any interest from Morelos in January, with the Colombian so key to the club. Across all competitions this season, Rangers have scored 80 goals; Morelos has been directly involved in 40% of those strikes.
In the end, the goal was not enough to secure the win, but Morelos can certainly be proud of his role in Rangers reaching knockout European football for the first time since 2011.
However, one man who might want Morelos to move on is Ally McCoist, as the Colombian is now just three goals behind the Rangers legend’s record for European goals – which currently stands at 21. Should Morelos stay past the January window and into the Europa League knockout stages, you can expect him to probably equal McCoist’s record at the least.
Other British results in the Europa League
- Cluj 2-0 Celtic: Celtic lost for the first time in seven Europa League games but had already secured their spot in the last-32 as Group E winners.
- Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal: Arsenal came from two goals down to secure top spot in their group thanks to goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka but extended their poor run of one win in 11 games.
- Man Utd 4-0 AZ Alkmaar: Ashley Young scored his first goal since March and Mason Greenwood grabbed a brace as United topped Group L.
- Wolves 4-0 Besiktas: Diogo Jota came off the bench to score the fastest Europa League hat-trick since 2014 but Wolves will have to make do with second in their group.