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4.08.2020Europa League

Our next opponents: Impressive build-up gives Rangers courage

Almost five months separate the first and second legs – both teams await a special situation in the game between the Werkself and Rangers on Thursday, 6 August (kick-off: 18.55 CET). But what has happened to the Scots in the meantime? The lowdown on our opponents.
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Position

A lot of Rangers fans probably yearn for the incredible atmosphere in the first leg meeting at the legendary Ibrox Stadium. Somehow they have to. The 3-1 win for Bayer 04 on 12 March was the last competitive match for the team in over four and a half months. The Scottish league fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic and was ended early with the Rangers 13 points behind arch-rivals Celtic having played one game less at the time. Rangers were declared runners-up. That means the team from the blue half of Glasgow will be in the second qualifying round of the Europa League next season.

Steven Gerrard's team started the new campaign in the Scottish Premiership at the weekend. In the first and only competitive match between the two meetings with the Werkself, the Glasgow team beat Aberdeen 1-0 with a goal from the former Liverpool player Ryan Kent. That means Rangers have continued the positive trend evident in friendlies before that. Four wins in four friendlies in July with the team not conceding a single goal. The two wins against the top French sides Olympique Lyon and OGC Nice (both 2-0) stand out. That's definitely why Gerrard sees the possibilities for his players at the BayArena in spite of the defeat in the first leg. "We still have a realistic chance," said the former world-class player. We'll go there and try to cause an upset. We know how difficult the task is but if you wear the Rangers badge then you never give up."

Personnel

During the break due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rangers signed a familiar face from the Bundesliga: Leon Balogun, who played for Fortuna Düsseldorf, Mainz 05 and SV Darmstadt 98, moved from Wigan Athletic to Rangers in July. He was in the line-up for the opening fixture in Aberdeen – and received a positive reception straightaway. "He received a round of applause in the dressing room, which was fully deserved," revealed Gerrard after the impressive debut by the central defender. The now 32-year-old defender cannot play against Bayer 04 as the Europa League still counts as part of the 2019/20 season.

It's different with two other big new signings. The now 37-year-old experienced player Jermain Defoe (57 caps for England) plus Ianos Hagi, son of the Romanian playmaker legend Gheorge Hagi, were signed in the summer. As they were both previously on loan, and thereby in the Europa League squad, they can play at the BayArena on Thursday.

Right back Matt Polster, who came off the bench in the closing stages in the first leg, is no longer at the club having moved on to New England Revolution in the USA. In addition, reserve keeper Wes Foderingham plus defenders Andy Halliday and Jon Flanagan have also left the club. They were on the bench in the 3-1 defeat to Bayer 04. Rangers have been able to hold on to their key players including top striker Alfredo Morelos who has attracted attention across Europe.

Problems

The defence was outstanding in the pre-season and in the opening match against Aberdeen and Gerrard will be hoping that there are no members of the defence ruled out for the game against Bayer 04. For Thursday's game, there are only five players available for the back four positions. At full-back, there are no alternatives to Borna Barisic (left) and captain James Tavernier (right) after Polster and Flanagan left the squad and new signing Calvin Bassy (Leicester City U23s) – just like Balogun – is also unable to play as yet. On top of that, there is the serious injury to central defender Nikola Katic, who suffered a torn cruciate during the pre-season in July, plus the enforcer Glen Kamara who picked up a third yellow card of the competition in the first leg.

PotenTial

The team has already moved forward under Gerrard with qualifying for the Round of 16 in the Europa League being the biggest success on the European stage in nine years (that ended with being knocked out in the Round of 16 by PSV Eindhoven). Rangers – particularly in attack – have young players with potential such as Hagi, Kent and Morelos in their ranks. Be it through their performances or the money they might attract in a transfer, they could bring the club a bit closer to the glory of former days in the coming years.

Prediction

Rangers face a difficult task at the BayArena. The Scots need to score at least three away goals to have a chance of reaching the quarter-finals. The challenge is huge and Bayer 04 are definitely the favourites but the Scots could be a surprise package after such a long break – given that Bayer 04 have not played a match for over a month. The question is: Who will make the better cold start?

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