Historic night for Rangers - but far from memorable as Liverpool triumph in story of inspired goalkeeper against red tide

Much was rightly made of this being the first competitive fixture between the teams. But Rangers will need to be a lot more competitive than this if they wish to take some form of revenge on their newest rivals next week at Ibrox.

“Every now and again, a fixture comes along that doesn’t need any hype or big build-up because of the names of the teams involved,” wrote Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson in the match programme.

There had in fact been some measure of hype. The atmosphere was pleasingly raucous prior to kick-off although the stadium did fall silent, also pleasingly, as the victims of the stadium crush in Indonesia were honoured. Both clubs feel the solemn weight of such tragedies more acutely than most.

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Battles of Britain are guaranteed to create a stir even if the gulf in class between teams from England and Scotland is far greater than it once was, as this outcome only underlined.

Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool scores their team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Liverpool FC and Rangers FC at Anfield on October 04, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Extra frisson was applied by some who boasted that this was a clash between England’s most successful club and the world’s most successful club. If so, Liverpool have claimed a mighty scalp.

In truth, they were not even playing the current champions of Scotland. Only Allan McGregor left his mark at this famous old stadium. The veteran got an extra big hug from Jurgen Klopp at the end.

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The Kop are known for their appreciation of away goalkeepers. The home fans gave McGregor a notably respectful reception at the start of the second half as he made his way to the goalline after his string of fine saves in the opening 45 minutes had kept Rangers in the game for longer than they perhaps deserved.

This was a story of an inspired goalkeeper and two centre-halves thrown into the deep end. Ben Davies gave away the foul which allowed Alexander-Arnold to clip in the opener. The Ibrox defender was making his first return to Anfield. He never featured here or anywhere else for his former club. Leon King was also handed a start in a three-man Rangers defence and the 18-year-old’s inexperience was plain to see when he hauled down Luis Diaz seven minutes into the second half. Mo Salah beat McGregor from the spot. Two set-piece goals didn’t adequately reflect Liverpool’s dominance. Remarkably, the margin of victory might have been tighter and perhaps even wiped out completely in the final minutes when Rabbi Matondo had an effort cleared off the line by Kostas Tsimikas and fellow substitute Antonio Colak saw a shot blocked. Matondo then had his shirt almost ripped off by Alexander-Arnold as Rangers performed a death rattle after being run ragged.

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Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after scoring the second goal during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Liverpool FC and Rangers FC at Anfield on October 04, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

It hadn't taken long for this historic fixture between the teams to explode into life. McGregor was required to beat away an effort from a motivated Darwin Nunez inside two minutes.

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But it was someone else with a point to prove who struck the first blow. Alexander-Arnold has been the subject of heavy debate since England manager Gareth Southgate stressed that he had to improve his all-round game to feature at right back or right wing back for England. He wasn’t stretched defensively here so perhaps he still has something to prove on that front. But he underlined his attacking capabilities with a sumptuous free-kick with just seven minutes on the clock.

It had felt ominous for Rangers from the moment Davies bundled over Nunez around 20 yards from goal. It seemed made-to-order for Alexander-Arnold. Or indeed Salah. Or even Henderson.

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There was a confab around the ball. Alexander-Arnold eventually stepped up and deftly clipped an effort over the wall into the left-hand corner of the goal. McGregor’s dive was always of the despairing variety, but Rangers were otherwise reliant on their veteran goalkeeper for keeping the score down.

Ben Davies of Rangers is challenged by Mohamed Salah of Liverpool during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Liverpool FC and Rangers FC at Anfield on October 04, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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A long night beckoned for Rangers on a pristine pitch that was simply begging the players to play on it. Liverpool had those with the ability to do so. The talent and considerable difference in budgets told from the opening moments. Nunez is considered to have endured a slow burning start to his Liverpool career after a personally costly red card against Crystal Palace. He lost his place due to suspension and Klopp admitted he had given the striker a pep talk on the eve of this clash. The manager had advised Nunez to stay calm and though there was an element of a striker trying too hard at times, he also had the misfortune of running into a 40-year-old goalkeeper who continues to defy his advancing years.

Nunez can be added to the long list of strikers who will wish McGregor had simply retired at the end of last season, as had been widely expected. The striker’s exasperation was clear to see. Who is this greying phenomenon? If he didn’t know before last night, he knows now.

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Time and time again McGregor either stood tall to foil him or flung himself this way or that. Sometimes McGregor shook it up a bit and made saves from other Liverpool players. He tipped one curling effort from Salah round the post. Otherwise, it was McGregor v Nunez, Scot v Uruguayan. Two saves towards the end of the opening 45 minutes were particularly notable. The first came after Salah had outmuscled Ryan Kent in a straight 50-50 challenge in the middle of the park. The Egyptian then played in Nunez, whose shot on the turn was blocked by McGregor. The passage of play summed up the game. Rangers were being too easily bullied and had no one performing at their maximum level other than their goalkeeper.

Alfredo Morelos’ inclusion in the starting line-up had caused a stir pre-match but he barely featured. It wouldn’t have mattered who Rangers were playing up front. Morelos made way for Colak in the second half but it was a mere detail in a match that might have been historic but was rarely memorable for the 2,500 away fans packed in a corner.

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