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Champions League: Celtic and Rangers struggle to make impact

Rangers waited over 10 years to reappear in the Champions League group stage but their campaign turned into something of a nightmare as they ended pointless and with the worst goal-difference tally in the competition's group stage history.

This article was originally published on 2 November 2022

Giovani van Bronckhorst's side were looking forward to facing the continent's elite but Ajax, Napoli and Liverpool all proved far too good for Gers, leaving them rooted to the bottom of the table.

No Scottish side had ever finished without scoring points and now the Dutch manager has to try and pick them up. With one game to go, Celtic's campaign hasn't been too much better and regardless of what they do at Real Madrid on Wednesday night, they too will be eliminated from Europe before the World Cup. 

Challenging each other for the Scottish Premiership title is now the main aim with the Bhoys priced at 2/7 to retain their crown while Rangers are available at 5/2 to take it back to the blue side of Glasgow.

Defensive frailties cost Rangers big time 

When Rangers beat PSV in the play off round 1-0 at the Philips Stadion to secure their passage to the group stage, there must have been great scope for optimism. Rudd van Nistelrooy's men are a good team and Rangers were able to shut out their attacking players. 

However, their backline has been like a sieve in the six group games with 22 goals being conceded. Only Czech side Viktoria Plzen have a worse record after conceding 24 and they can point to the fact they had Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Barcelona to contend with. 

The 4-0 thumping to Ajax in the first group game set the tone and Rangers never fully recovered. They have also struggled to score goals too with Scott Arfield's early goal against Liverpool and a James Tavernier penalty on Tuesday all they could muster. 

It sums up how giant the chasm is between football in Scotland and the Champions League. The gulf in class was simply insurmountable and if Rangers get to the group stage again next year then they will have to find a solution to compete. 

Fine margins halt Celtic's progress 

While Rangers were on the wrong end of several heavy defeats, Celtic's campaign has been one of "what could have been". Ange Postecoglou's men sit bottom with two points and a game to go. However, they cannot catch Shakhtar Donetsk who sit third and therefore won't be handed the consolation prize of Europa League football. 

It was the two matches against the Ukrainian outfit that proved decisive. On both occasions, Celtic took the lead yet the pair of matches ended 1-1. Four points dropped could have seen Celtic go into Wednesday's match against Real in a prime position to claim third. 

RB Leipzig won by two goals in both matches while Celtic were handed the toughest test of them all on matchday one - the defending European champions Real Madrid. There was no lack of spirit from the Hoops but Los Blancos' star quality shone through at Park Head. 

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What needs to change for them to compete? 

One of the issues both Celtic and Rangers have is the comparative lack of spending power to their rivals. The record transfer in the Scottish Premiership still stands from 2000 when Tore Andre Flo joined Rangers from Chelsea for £12million. 

The perceived unattractiveness of Scottish football means both clubs have to be creative in the market. They tend to target younger players who can be sold on for a profit. That means it is incredibly tough for them to build a team capable of going far in the Champions League and it doesn't appear too likely to change in the near future. 

Van Bronckhorst under scrutiny 

The poor Champions League performances plus some below-par displays domestically means that Van Bronckhorst may find himself under pressure if results don't improve. Rangers were not necessarily expected to compete for the last 16 but the manner of those losses will have set the alarm bells ringing, as the Light Blues lost every game by at least a two-goal margin. They are also four points adrift of Celtic after being beaten 4-0 in the Old Firm derby earlier in the season, while draws against Hibs and Livingston have cost them. 

Postecoglou is still a hugely popular figure among Celtic fans and they will be disappointed but not dismayed at their early exit. Rangers fans might be feeling different though and Van Bronckhorst needs to earn their trust back quickly. 

Gers Rangers go to St Johnstone on Sunday hoping for a big response. Celtic, meanwhile, play on Saturday against Dundee United.

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