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Rangers suffer Ajax hammering on Champions League group-stage return

Rangers suffered a second hammering in five days with a comprehensive 4-0 defeat by Ajax in their Champions League Group A opener.

The Light Blues were thrashed 4-0 by Old Firm rivals Celtic on Saturday and in the Johan Cruyff Arena they again found themselves effectively out of the game by the interval and hoping to avoid embarrassment.

Midfielder Edson Alvarez headed in from a corner in the 17th minute before Gers defender James Sands redirected a Steven Berghuis shot into his own net after 32 minutes, with Mohammed Kudus thundering in a drive a minute later.

It was a nightmare for the Ibrox side who were playing Champions League football for the first time in 12 years, with Steven Bergwijn adding a fourth with 10 minutes remaining.

Rangers travel to Aberdeen on Saturday under pressure and the spotlight will be on Giovanni van Bronckhorst and how he intends to restore confidence and try to recover the five-point gap behind Celtic at the top of the table.

It was always going to be a difficult game for Rangers, regardless of the weekend’s woes.

Van Bronckhorst stuck with keeper Jon McLaughlin who had his poorest performance for Rangers at Celtic Park with the only change being winger Scott Wright coming in for veteran midfielder Steven Davis.

Ajax v Rangers – UEFA Champions League – Group A – Johan Cruyff Arena
Ajax’s Edson Alvarez (centre) heads home the opening goal in the 4-0 win over Rangers (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Calvin Bassey, who made the switch from Rangers to Ajax in the summer, was at centre-back with striker Kudus and midfielder Kenneth Taylor replacing Davy Klaassen and Brian Brobbey who dropped to the bench.

The first corner came for Ajax in the 10th minute and defender Jurrien Timber headed Bergwijn’s delivery from the left over from eight yards, unchallenged.

The Govan side failed to heed the warning.

When Berghuis swung his corner over from the right, Alvarez also rose unchallenged to head in from six yards.

Confidence seemed to drain from Rangers and McLaughlin had to save at his near post from defender Devyne Rensch’s angled drive.

Ajax v Rangers – UEFA Champions League – Group A – Johan Cruyff Arena
Steven Berghuis celebrates after scoring Ajax’s second goal against Rangers (Zac Goodwin/PA)

The home side swarmed around the Gers penalty area and, in the 28th minute, Rensch only had McLaughlin to beat after taking a pass from Taylor but somehow missed the target.

However, in the space of a minute, things went from bad to worse for Van Bronckhorst’s side.

Sands tried to block a Berghuis shot from 16 yards but succeeded in wrong-footing McLaughlin and, as Rangers appeared in as much disarray as they did in the first half at Celtic Park, Kudus easily brushed off the attention of Gers skipper James Tavernier and drove an unstoppable shot high past McLaughlin and in off the far post.

The Ibrox keeper saved long-distance efforts from Taylor and captain Dusan Tadic before the break as Ajax threatened time and again to increase their lead further.

In a move that reeked of desperation and the need for damage limitation, Tavernier, Wright and Malik Tillman came off for Ryan Jack, Rabbi Matondo and Leon King, with a tactical reshuffle.

Ajax v Rangers – UEFA Champions League – Group A – Johan Cruijff ArenA
Steven Bergwijn scored Ajax’s fourth goal after rounding Rangers goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin (Zac Goodwin/PA)

But it made no difference.

Ajax kept the ball – Kudus was always a danger – and Rangers chased.

In a rare Gers attack in the 67th minute attacker Ryan Kent knocked a Matondo cross wide and then, moments later, he set up left-back Borna Barisic to curl the ball past under-employed goalkeeper Remko Pasveer from the edge of the box, the VAR check cancelling out the goal for Kent being offside in the build-up.

Davis replaced Glen Kamara in the 78th minute and two minutes later Bergwijn accepted an errant pass from Jack, rounded McLaughlin at the edge of the box and rolled into the empty net.

Kent’s shot in added time hit Timber and came off the post, denying the Ibrox men a consolation.

So soon after the Celtic Park calamity, Rangers again have to regroup to stop the season, at home and abroad, spiralling away from them.