On-form Rangers signalled a statement of intent as they defeated Real Madrid 2-1 in action-packed friendly at Ibrox.
Cedric Itten once again proved to be the perfect super-sub as he hammered home seconds after Nacho had received his marching orders by Willie Collum.
Madrid were ahead thanks to Rodrygo’s ice-cool finish after eight minutes but summer signing Fashion Sakala announced his arrival with a thumping equaliser in the second half.
The victory will please Steven Gerrard but it will be the consistency of his side’s performance from first minute to last that will leave a lasting impression ahead of a return to competitive action.
Despite all of Rangers’ early domination they found themselves behind after Martin Odegaard’s purposeful run opened up the Gers’ backline and the Brazilian took advantage of a lucky bounce to leave Ibrox silenced.
But if the hosts were knocked by that goal they didn’t show it as they piled it on for the rest of the first half skipper Marcelo urged his team-mates to get out.
Rangers passed up a host of golden chances but the best was Ryan Kent’s gilt-edged opportunity from a yard out as we contrived to hit the bar after Scott Wright’s perfect low cross for Fashion Sakala ricocheted into the path of the former Liverpool man.
There were thousands of fans in attendance but the biggest supporter for the hosts was undoubtedly Gerrard as the manager clapped and encouraged his player to keep pushing Madrid back.
The Ibrox stars got the message and Ianis Hagi, John Lundstram and Kent were all expertly denied by Madrid’s second choice keeper Andriy Lunin.
It was the away side who settled better at the start of the second half but Sergio Arribas’ tentative header from 10 yards out really should have hit the target.
But that opportunity triggered a response from Rangers and they were in the ascendency was clear to see before Sakala grabbed the leveller.
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A raft of substitutions from both teams meant momentum was a scare commodity for both teams until Miguel Gutierrez cracked the post.
The game appeared to petering out before Nacho was shown a second yellow card for a raised booth which caught Glen Kamara on his hip.
That decision breathed new life into the hosts who instantly went ahead as Itten brilliantly angled a shot into the bottom corner.
Hard yards paying off
Gerrard read the riot act to his players after their 1-0 defeat to Tranmere but that broadside feels like a part of a bigger plan to make sure there will be no complacency after a season to savour. The Rangers pre-season schedule, by all accounts, is unforgiving but it appears all the extra work is worth it. There was a sharpness to the Ibrox side from the opening exchanges. Players were first to the ball all over the pitch and Lundstram and Wright, in particular, were tigerish and they were constantly jumping in front of the all-star opponents in a bid to win the ball back. Malmo or Helsinki will be no mugs but Rangers appear in decent shape ahead of their Premiership opener and their long-awaited return to the Champions League.
The Wright stuff
It’s the job of a manager to talk up their players but Gerrard has never been one to waste words on players unless they have arrived as a bonafide first-team talent. But the Liverpool icon has been effusive of his praise of Wright since he joined from Aberdeen in January. Gerrard always said the new campaign is when the Ibrox public would see the best of the versatile 23-year-old. That prediction looks sage now as his display against Los Blancos was excellent. Wright was hell-bent to run at the Madrid backline with 36-year-old icon Marcelo gulping any time the man from the Granite City turned on the speed. His teasing cross that ended up at Kent’s feet from a yard was created by showing no respect to Madrid. This is a player with total belief in his undoubted abilities.
He’s in Fashion
Rangers are at their best when Kent is firing and some of flicks and tricks had the esteemed visitors retreating when he was on the ball. But Rangers’ chief entertainer might be forming a deadly double act as Sakala appears another player capable of moments of magic. His goal was brilliantly taken but there was loads to like in his overall display even if he hadn’t found the back of the net. Sakala’s enthusiasm is infectious but it’s the timing of his runs that will likely leave opponents glum this season. And he’s another player who can play in multiple roles as he was handed the chance to lead the line against Madrid. The Zambia international had to wait for his introduction but Rangers supporters will be seriously impressed by the 26-year-old’s early return.
Rangers kick off their Scottish Premiership title defence against Livingston on July 31 and ahead of the new campaign we have an exclusive preview which you can get both in your inbox and through your letterbox. Head over here to find out more and secure your copy.