It is a topsy-turvy world that Rangers find themselves inhabiting. It could be no other way when a trip to Moscow to play the Russian champions might be considered a welcome break from attempting to prosper at some of the most modest domestic outposts in the top flight.
It has been well documented that the Ibrox club appear to have developed a split personality under Steven Gerrard. Their Europa League tie on Thursday against a Spartak side riven by internecine strife offers them the opportunity to equal a club record for consecutive games unbeaten in continental competition that stands at 12 matches. Their efforts in Europe are in stark contrast to their domestic form. While they have survived stern examinations to capable teams in Spain, Russia, Croatia and Slovenia, they have come up short away to Livingston and, in last week’s Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden, to an Aberdeen team currently eighth in the Premiership.
Gerrard has made great strides to allow Rangers to sit top of a Europa League Group G including Villarreal, Rapid Vienna and Spartak. However, within these borders it is arguable if the Ibrox side have made even baby steps.
Rangers assistant Gary McAllister doesn’t believe that that contrast is as mystifying as might appear.
“The European games are so different to the domestic games,” he said. “We’re playing against quality opposition who think they are probably better than us because of where the Scottish game is and where Rangers have been in the recent times. So they fancy beating us, so they are coming out and I think we’ve surprised teams with our quality and our intensity. And it’s two teams trying to win.”
Yet, even beyond that, the “blip” – as McAllister called the recent struggles for winning form – has been misrepresented, he believes. That comes as a result of it being assumed to cover a scoreless draw at home to Spartak, ahead of the Aberdeen loss and a 1-1 draw at home to Kilmarnock in midweek.
“I thought it was a cracking game of football there [when Spartak came to Ibrox]. Teams are going to come to Ibrox and we’re going to roll them over? That wasn’t the case against Spartak, I thought it was two good teams.
“To be fair I think they spent in excess of £90m to put that team together. The game seems to have been dragged into this sort of bad little blip but that in isolation was a good game of football. A team that came to try to frustrate – they did their job. We just couldn’t break them down. But it is the two after that have been frustrating. We’ve bossed both of them, enjoyed a lot of possession, it’s just been that bit in the final third that’s not been there.
“Maybe a wee bit of composure. We’re a team that tries to play high intensity and go quick. With quick combinations. But maybe at times you’ve just got to come off the pedal. Just wait for the moment to deliver the pass or the cross or the cutback. I think that’s just been where we’ve been a wee bit anxious.
“But in Moscow I think the onus will be on the home team, won’t it? There’s a bit of change there with managers and stuff. So the onus is on them to get a result. They need a result. Then the game will probably give more opportunities to produce things in that final third. The spaces open, their full-backs might join in and leave space. Which will be different from Ibrox because then they were pretty rigid.”
Spartak seem no closer to harmonising relations with their squad and support than when they were in Glasgow a week-and-a-half ago. Then they were in ferment after Raul Riancho had been placed in caretaker charge following the sacking of coach Massimo Carrera. The sacking of the man who had let them to the title led to an outcry from the supporters that is still reverberating.
Ranco left seven players at home when the club travelled to Glasgow. Among these was captain Denis Glushakov, who was suspended by the club after liking an instagram post ridiculing Carrera. Ranco this week recalled the player for a cup win over Anja but the move led the club’s ultra section to unfurl a banner labelling the captain “Judas”.
“I am 58 years old, I have worked in Spain, Russia and Ukraine, but I have never seen anything like it,” the temporary manager was moved to say. “There are a group of fans who will clearly never accept Glushakov and they made that very clear.
“When there’s a divorce, there’s hurt on both sides and the family suffers. What we need to do to recover is get the Spartak family to unite again because that kind of atmosphere won’t help anyone. Booing him when he has the ball and singing vile songs about him does not help the team. How can it? But I don’t care about the whistles and the booing. He is a good player and will play in the team.”