Rangers’ sobering Champions League campaign continued on its downward trajectory with a 3-0 defeat against Napoli in the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. A 7-1 defeat by Liverpool at Ibrox in their last Group A outing had shocked the Light Blues and their fans and it looked ominous when striker Giovanni Simeone scored twice in the first 16 minutes for the dominant home side.
The second half was more encouraging for the visitors but the defender Leo Østigård headed in a third from a corner in the 80th minute to seal the win and leave the Serie A leaders with five wins out of five in the group. By contrast, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side have lost all five games, conceding 19 goals and scoring one, and he will now find himself under more pressure.
Last season’s Europa League finalists are out of Europe altogether, barring an unlikely thrashing of Ajax in the final game at Ibrox next week. A real sense of trepidation surrounded Rangers for their trip to Naples to play an in-form team who won 3-0 at Ibrox, though the home side had put up a good fight until James Sands was sent off.
It was another reshuffled Rangers lineup with Van Bronckhorst giving a first Champions League start to the left-back Ridvan Yilmaz, while Sands, Alfredo Morelos and Scott Wright came back in. The Napoli manager, Luciano Spalletti, made six changes as he rested some key players including Hirving Lozano, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen.
However, the Italian club – unbeaten in all 15 previous games this season and on a run of 11 successive wins – were still packed with quality including the captain, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, and the South Korea defender Kim Min-jae, with the Norwegian Østigård making his debut in defence. Van Bronckhorst had asked for a display of character but that was in question as they soon fell 2-0 behind.
There were just 11 minutes gone when Di Lorenzo sent the striker Simeone down the right flank, and despite the attention of the defender Leon King he fired the ball low across the keeper Allan McGregor and in at the far post. Four minutes later, Simeone headed in a cross from Mario Rui with the defenders King and Ben Davies helpless either side. Rangers looked like they would crumble further.
There was a let-off for the ragged visitors in the 22nd minute when Tanguy Ndombele cracked the crossbar with a drive from distance and then, in the 38th minute, McGregor saved a close-range header from Giacomo Raspadori as Napoli stepped up the pressure again. It was all too comfortable for Napoli, although the Rangers midfielder Malik Tillman had a shot blocked in a rare foray into the opposition box before Morelos’s deflected strike on a counterattack was saved by the home goalkeeper Alex Meret.
Fashion Sakala replaced Wright for the second half and Rangers reverted to a back five but soon Simeone had another chance, this time lobbing McGregor from the edge of the box, but it bounced over the bar. The Rangers defence was being easily opened up.
McGregor blocked an angled drive from Simeone with his foot before Rangers enjoyed a spell of positive possession around the hour and a Morelos volley was blocked by Rui. Next the Colombia striker missed the ball altogether from just five yards out from a Yilmaz cross.
In between those two chances a loose pass from the Rangers captain James Tavernier gave Raspadori a chance but he bent his shot wide of the far post. In the 79th minute McGregor saved an effort from Rui and from the resultant corner from Raspadori, Østigård rose to power in a header and add gloss to a convincing home win.