Road to the UEFA Europa League Final 2020
Football Manager 2017
Two successful domestic seasons have passed following the move from TSG Hoffenheim to my boyhood club – Glasgow Rangers.
My initial remit was to stabilize the club, build a strong group of Scottish nationals, with the view to developing and nurturing a starting eleven, born-and-bred within a 30-mile radius of Ibrox Stadium.
Could we exorcize the demons of Manchester 2008, where Walter Smith’s men were defeated two goals to nil by Russian side – Zenit St. Petersburg in the UEFA Cup Final…
UEFA Champions League
Despite a gallant effort in the second round of matches in Group E, we were beaten to the second spot by Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.
UEFA Europa League
First Knockout Round, 1st Leg: Rangers v VfL Wolfsburg
A magnificent start to our UEFA Europa League campaign seen us score three goals in the opening 22 minutes of the match. Strikes from Chris Martin, John McGinn and Ryan Hardie should all but have killed the tie, however, debutant goalkeeper, Scott Bain, accidentally fumbled the ball into his own net on 28 minutes to give the Germans some hope. Michy Batshuayi is brought down inside the area. 63 minutes – Highly rated Nigerian frontman Victor Osimhen slots home the spot kick. We manage to see out the remainder of the game, but conceding two away goals in some ways feels like a defeat. Our starting eleven featured nine Scots.
Rangers 3 – 2 VfL Wolfsburg
First Knockout Round, 2nd Leg: VfL Wolfsburg v Rangers
Ryan Hardie silences the home support inside the Volkswagen Arena..!! A fantastic away goal within the first 4 minutes. Andre Hahn pulls Wolfsburg level on 13 minutes, but it’s not enough in the end, as we shut-up shop and stifle the game.
VfL Wolfsburg 1 – 1 Rangers
Rangers 4 – 3 VfL Wolfsburg
You will notice that we changed two key players to face each scenario; In the first leg, we were chasing goals, so I opted for BBM – John McGinn and a more attack focused FB – Tony Gallagher. However, in the second leg, we wanted to keep things a bit tighter. Graeme Shinnie is a more defensively minded FB and Ryan Jack is suited to breaking up play in midfield areas, recycling the ball and a playing a simple pass.
UEFA Europa League
Round of 16, 1st Leg: Real Madrid v Rangers
So, to perhaps the biggest match in my tenure at Ibrox thus far. Łukasz Piszczek aside, it will almost certainly be the greatest in the careers of the squad as a whole.
The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium awaits…
We go there with a 4-1-3-1-1 and try to hit them on the counter attack.
Graeme Shinnie, Danny Wilson, Liam Lindsay and Łukasz Piszczek will be tasked with containing Dybala, Bale and Gabbiadini. Up-top, Thorgan Hazard will be given a free role as a trequartista, in behind lone striker Chris Martin.
PoM – Thorgan Hazard truly steals the show in a spectacular 0 – 2 victory..!!
A goal in each half really puts us in the driving seat for the home leg at Ibrox.
The entire defence works magnificently as a unit to stifle the Madrid forward line. Keeping them at bay for the full 90 minutes.
- Danny Wilson – 8.1
- Graeme Shinnie – 8.0
- Stuart Armstrong – 9.0 – Assists – 2
- Thorgan Hazard – 9.2 – Goals – 2 – PoM
Real Madrid 0 – 2 Rangers
UEFA Europa League
Round of 16, 2nd Leg: Rangers v Real Madrid
Los Merengues need to go for it in this match..!!
A much-altered lineup for Real Madrid. 4-4-2 with Ronaldo and Bale on opposite wings.
We mirror the 4-1-3-1-1 from the first leg.
“Well, well, well…!!!”
What a game..!!
We eventually lose 2 – 3 on the night, which means we progress to the next round, 4 – 3 on aggregate.
Rangers 2 – 3 Real Madrid
Rangers 4 – 3 Real Madrid
A good team performance but, it’s John McGinn who really shows his class on the European stage, when it matters most, to deliver a PoM display. Contributing two assists for Thorgan Hazard and Scottish International, Alex Mowatt, who released a rocket past Keylor Navas from 35-yards.
John McGinn – Assists – 2 – PoM
UEFA Europa League
Quarter-Final, 1st Leg: Southampton v Rangers
If the Inaugural 1992 UEFA Champions League tie between Rangers and Leeds United was billed as ‘The Battle of Britain’, then this fixture, although featuring the current champions of Scotland – does not include the title holders in England.
Southampton will be a formidable opponent nonetheless.
Chris Martin, so often an inspiration in the big matches, really failed to make any impact and was marshalled expertly by Dutch International Colossus and ex-Celtic defender, Virgil van Dijk. Much the same can be said for our Belgian trequartista, Thorgan Hazard. He’s been nothing short of magnificent, since his arrival from Gladbach. A player I had on my radar at Hoffenheim, however, on that occasion we went for Serge Gnabry instead. So when the opportunity presented itself at Rangers, we simply had to sign Thorgan.
Certainly not the worst performance from the team….
Saints left sided winger Sofiane Boufal was first to react and pounce on a rebound from Nathan Redmond’s angled drive.
Southampton 1 – 0 Rangers
UEFA Europa League
Quarter-Final, 2nd Leg: Rangers v Southampton
The headline running in most Scottish newspapers.
The mood south of the border was that of overconfidence and arrogance. A result in Govan nothing but a foregone conclusion. A formality. Southampton was going to come to Glasgow and walk all over us…
“Aye, right..!!” “That’ll show ‘em boys..!!”
Bringing in the more defensively minded Graeme Shinnie to replace attacking left wingback, Tony Gallagher, proved decisive.
The key to this tie was simply not to concede, as I was more than confident we would score ourselves.
Substitute Ryan Hardie scores the opener when he collects a long pass from Danny Wilson on his chest, sprints clear of the away defence and executes a deft chip from 18 yards, after spotting the goalkeeper off his line. 1-0 Rangers..!!
Deep into the second half of extra-time…
Hardie shows great strength and technique to hold off Saints centre back Alvaro and chances his arm with a perfect shot beyond Forster and into the net..!! “Gooooaaaaalllllll..!!!”
Rangers triumph in the ‘Battle of Britain light’.
Danny Wilson – 8.6 – Assists – 1
Ryan Hardie – 8.8 – Goals – 2 – PoM
Rangers 2 – 0 Southampton
Rangers 2 – 1 Southampton
I tell the boys, I’m over the moon with them.
UEFA Europa League
Semi-Final, 1st Leg: Rangers v Schalke 04
The team from Gelsenkirchen are all that stand between us and a place in the final of the Europa League.
Schalke comes to Ibrox and set-up in a sturdy 4-4-1-1 formation.
We switch things to go like-for-like in the wide areas of the pitch, with Thorgan Hazard and Greg Kiltie occupying left and right.
Ryan Jack will be tasked with putting the shackles on Max Meyer.
Schalke deservedly took the lead in the 52nd minute when Liam Lindsay’s poor marking was capitalised upon by Phillip Lusch, who steered a header past Sergio Romero. The away goal could prove costly for us….
What a wonderful goal..!! We slice our way through Schalke’s defence with a couple of quick one-twos, first McGinn and Hardie, then Hazard and Hardie. Hardie applies the perfect left footed finish from 10 yards.
After a hard fought 90 minutes, the match finishes even.
Both teams really fighting to win their individual battles, with neither coming out on top.
“We do like to make things difficult for ourselves…”
Rangers 1 – 1 Schalke 04
An away goal conceded…
Again, not ideal, but as always I’m more than confident we can score in Germany.
Thorgan Hazard – 6.8 – Assists – 1
Ryan Hardie – 7.0 – Goals – 1
Former Partick Thistle central defender Liam Lindsay has been a great signing for us but, looked to be severely out of his depth against Schalke.
Perhaps at a glance – Ryan Jack’s quality doesn’t quite jump out at you, however, he’s really made the DM position his own when called upon, and particularly during this UEFA Europa League campaign.
Jack performed superbly in the last outing versus Schalke. A commanding display – up against Maximilian Meyer.
Ryan Jack – 7.8
UEFA Europa League
Semi-Final, 2nd Leg: Schalke 04 v Rangers
“Rangers must score”
Big changes for this, the most important match for the club in the past decade.
We sit narrow and look to hit them on the counter-attack.
Craig Gardner gets the nod in his now favoured DM position, alongside Anchorman – Ryan Jack.
Thorgan Hazard will have a free-role in behind DF – Chris Martin and veteran striker Ross McCormack. He enjoys the ‘big’ occasion, so that was my thinking behind that one.
Tony Gallagher comes in for Graeme Shinnie to offer us pace and attacking width at full back.
After only 2 minutes, Hazard breezes past two tame challenges in central midfield, threads an inch-perfect pass to McCormack, who delivers an exquisite ball over the top of the Schalke back line, Chris Martin still has some work to do from close range… He deftly fires his shot over Ralf Fährmann and under the crossbar as the German was covering the near post. A perfect start..!!
The trio combines again in the second half, however, on this occasion, Martin returns the favour and slots a lovely weighted pass through to Ross McCormack, who has really done the business for us here..!!
Ryan Jack receives a second yellow card on 68 minutes..!!
We need to drop deep and defend the lead.
Alex Mowatt comes on for McCormack who gets a standing ovation from the travelling Rangers fans, and rightly so…
The match official signals to the referee, who in turn sounds the whistle..!!
“Rangers have done it..!!”
A resounding 0 – 2 victory away from home sees us through to the final in Turin.
Schalke 04 0 – 2 Rangers
Rangers 3 – 1 Schalke 04
UEFA Europa League
Final: Rangers v TSG Hoffenheim
“You fucking better believe it..!!”
Having guided Hoffenheim to a European place for the first time in the clubs history, it feels somewhat fitting then, that three years later whilst manager of my boyhood club Rangers, the two teams should come face-to-face in the final of the 2020 UEFA Europa League final.
“This truly is Football Manager at its very, very best… Fairytale stuff..!!”
Some readers may remember the 2008 UEFA Cup final, which saw former Rangers manager – Dick Advocaat, defeat his old side 2 – 0 during his time in charge of Russian outfit – Zenit St. Petersburg. “We simply must make amends for the loss in that final..!!”
An assortment of friendly and familiar faces in the starting eleven for Hoffenheim.
Gnabry, Danilo and Schaub… All players that we brought to the club during my tenure at the German side. And who could forget? The main man himself – Nadiem Amiri. A player who I gave his first real run in the first team, along with Philipp Ochs.
Tactically we won’t deviate too much from the away leg in Germany. I switch a DM for CMsupport – Ryan Jack for Stuart Armstrong. It’s a one-off game, so we need the extra creativity that Stuart undoubtedly possesses. At the back, we wanted to be more solid as a defensive unit. The versatile and ever dependable Graeme Shinnie replacing attacking WB – Tony Gallagher.
I stick with the little and large combination of big Chris Martin and in-form poacher – Ross McCormack. As fantastic a player Ryan Hardie is for us… It niggles at me that he doesn’t enjoy big matches..!!
Not something that can be said of Mr McCormack…
“Everybody loves a happy ending…!!”
“It’s all over in Turin…!!”
“I couldn’t keep you in suspense any longer”
Glasgow Rangers are UEFA Europa League Champions..!!!!
Danilo and Gnabry strikes just weren’t enough for Hoffenheim. A brace from, yes you guessed it… Ross McCormack, who at the tender age of 34, was sure to impress Scotland boss, Peter Houston. Here to enjoy the spectacle and run the rule over eight of our other Scottish internationals. He’s paid £40k p/w (Highest at the club) for a reason and didn’t disappoint here.Thorgan Hazard makes a darting run through the visitors’ defence and latches on to an inch-perfect Graeme Shinnie cross to make it 3-2 with a piece of individual brilliance. Hazard wins the trophy for us on the 89th minute, and it was a wonderfully taken goal from the player.
“Thorgan Hazard – Man of the moment..!!”
A massive, massive shout-out goes to Graeme Shinnie…
Graeme Shinnie – 8.3 – Assists – 3
An absolutely thrilling end, to what was a terrific campaign in Europe.
The most satisfying thing from my point of view is that glory was achieved whilst working within the confines of a strict wage cap and fielding a starting eleven consisting of no fewer than nine Scots.
The overall aim of the save is to be successful with a team made up of Glaswegian born players. Akin to Celtic’s ‘Lisbon Lions’.
And, whilst my victory over TSG Hoffenheim in Juventus Stadium isn’t quite the ‘Turin Tigers’… It is a magnificent achievement none the less, and one I will certainly savour for some time yet.
Here are some of the stars of the team who were crowned UEFA Europa League winners. Players we perhaps sadly missed in our review of the campaign…
Łukasz Piszczek – FB support
Danny Wilson – CD defend
Liam Lindsay – CD defend
Alex Mowatt – CM support
Stuart Armstrong – CM support
Chris Martin – DF defend
This post was written by Rickie Clark. You can find him in Football Manager Slack as “blackcaesara5”.
If you don’t know what FM Slack is, read THIS.