In their first match in the group stage of UEFA Europa League, Rangers earned a draw against La Liga side Villareal in Spain.
Rangers conceded in the opening minute of the game as Carlos Bacca hit a brilliant shot from outside the box that went up and over the outstretched arm of Allan McGregor. It looked an ill omen for Rangers, as most conventional wisdom would suggest that Villareal should be capable of rather outclassing the Scottish side.
Rangers held firm the rest of the way through a shaky first half. Villareal continued to largely dominate possession until Rangers started to get some handle on the game in the midfield, although even then when the halftime whistle sounded the game was clearly being controlled by the Spanish club.
The second half was another story however, as Rangers came out and looked a different side. Villareal still had the majority of possession but Steven Gerrard’s tactics seemed to take better hold with his side. The defensive shape was better and the counter-attacks posed some danger.
The most notable change in the second half is that Rangers stopped playing scared. When they won the ball in the mid-field they held it to build an attack instead of the desperate long-balls that plagued them against Celtic.
Rangers finally found their breakthrough in the 67th minute. Skipper James Tavernier made a great run into the Villareal box before seemingly drawing a penalty. Whether the ref was simply playing advantage of not is unknown, but Daniel Candeias continued to play as he ran down the ball and hit a hard square to Scott Arfield who redirected the ball into the back of the net.
Rangers joy would be short-lived however, as one of Villareal’s newest additions struck in the 69th minute as Gerrard Moreno cut away from Borna Barisic before slotting the ball past the near post.
The game would go back and forth until in the 76th minute Kyle Lafferty brought Rangers level. Newly subbed in Glenn Middleton made a perfect through ball that Borna Barisic ran down before making a nice square pass where Lafferty poked the ball into the goal.
From there it would go back and forth, both sides had chances to win the game in the closing minutes but neither quite found the breakthrough to find all three points.
At the end of the match, Villareal was probably the better side, but the point Rangers walk away with was well earned. Despite struggling in La Liga early on Villareal figures to be the toughest opponent in the group, so it would stand to believe that this was the toughest game in the stage for Rangers, if that does end up being the case, they are in great shape.