EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — “Pleased,” was what manger Alex McLeish said he was after his Glasgow Rangers were beaten 3-2 by Argentine outfit River Plate Saturday at Giants Stadium.
“We have plenty to be happy about,” the Scottish Premier League team’s chief continued. “The most important thing is we get our fitness 100 percent at the start of the season. It would have been nice to win the game to boost our confidence, but the players shouldn’t be too worried.”
Worried about what?
Keeping their place or beating Celtic?
Worried was the body language of the Gers as they left the field after they were outclassed by the Argentinian champions in a special pre-season tour that followed an MLS game between the MetroStars and Chicago Fire.
McLeish’s post-game remarks did not reflect reality when he said, “We could have scored more goals, and River Plate could have scored more goals also; it looks as if defenses will have to tighten up a little bit.”
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Need McLeish be reminded that he coaches Rangers and not River Plate. It seems McLeish is avoiding his honest assessment of the game regarding the Gers. Perhaps he was trying to comment on a “friendly” game, but the reality is that preseason for Rangers has gotten off to a weak start for the Scottish Premier League title.
“We played a lot of good stuff,” McLeish said.
Before the good stuff, however, the biggest presence on the field was Gers; Lorenzo Amoruso, but for the wrong reasons. Amurso is capable of some outstanding plays and at times is brilliant. But his individualism sometimes gets him into deep trouble. He is temperamental and too often he shows his frustration on the pitch.
On Saturday, Amoruso got sucked into the play by some clever work from River’s attack. His left flank was getting exposed as River’s quick and intricate passing was finding space and looking dangerous. River’s attack jinked in and out of the Rangers’ left side. At times Amoruso seemed to have lost interest and his positional sense was uncertain. Rangers were thus somewhat unbalanced before the “good stuff” materialized and the finger pointed at the unsettled Italian defender.
In the 17th minute, River’s Alvarez found Eduardo Coudet, who flew down the wing and crossed for Celso Ayala, who in turn guided the ball home.
In the 37th minute, Rangers were all over the place when Craig Moore’s back pass was too short, leading to an open chance by River’s Alvarez.
Rangers did well to save off the line, but things were looking shaky in their backline. One-nil it remained at the half and the good stuff for the Gers came from center midfielders Barry Ferguson and Mikel Arteta. For McLeish and Rangers, the main concern was their defense, with their colossal Italian defender having a very difficult time with the flair and magic of the River Plate players.
Rangers came out with the same 11 in the second half but moved Arteta up a little in front of Ferguson. It was a necessary move by McLeish. Rangers needed to get hold of the ball in the middle, where River were dominating. River gave the Gers midfield no time to settle down when in the 51st minute Victor Zapata finished comfortably for River to go two up. Amoruso’s mess-up on a short free was the cause of the goal.
Once again some nice intricate passing from River exposed Rangers defensively and it looked like an uphill battle.
“I thought Barry and Mikel were excellent,” McLeish said. “River Plate’s midfield was causing us problems early on, so we changed things about. Arteta moved farther forward in the second half and I thought he had a fantastic game. His touch was there and he and Barry looked comfortable with each other.”
Celtic fans at the game will have noticed this duo in the middle as their playmaking gave Rangers a nice spell of possession. Just after the hour, Fernando Risksen crossed into Shota Arveladze, who tapped home from 6 yards.
The Dutch influence then came alive as Rangers began to move the ball around.
However, their possession became predictable as space in behind River’s backs was denied time and time again.
River then made a move to regain the ball in midfield by introducing D’Allesandro. It became clear with the youngster’s first touch that Rangers had to deal with yet another brilliant dribbler.
In the 77th minute, Amoruso thumped a free kick from 25 yards into River’s net, a shot the goalkeeper never even saw.
Suddenly all the earlier criticism of Amoruso seemed to go out the window with his demonstration of his formidable power — but only for a momen. Within a minute, seemingly out of nowhere, River scores again, and from Amoruso’s side, as Zapata hit a long ball to Massimiliano Lopez, who buried it over Rangers keeper Klos.
Arthur Numan was then shown the red card after taking down D’Allesandro. Rangers had finally succumbed to the trickery of the River Plate talent.
It wasn’t the most convincing of performances by Rangers, who take on Brazil’s Santos F.C. this Saturday at 4 p.m. at Giants Stadium, but it was one that left Alex McLeish happy enough. For Lorenzo Amoruso, however, it was hot and cold day. He may want to withhold declarations that, “The days of watching Celtic run away with the league are now over.” Amoruso believes the Ibrox squad has more quality than Celtic. The jury’s out on that one, Mr. Amoruso, because quality is something that was not immediately apparent at Giants Stadium Saturday.
It’s early days for Rangers and Celtic and, after all, it’s difficult to wage SPL title hopes on friendlies. It’s certainly early days to announce that the Gers are better equipped than the Hoops. If, however, one was to go on the Rangers-River Plate game, then Rangers and Amoruso have a lot of team defense to figure out before they meet Celtic.