Rangers will bid to maintain their strong start to their Europa League campaign when they host Rapid Vienna at Ibrox next Thursday. Steven Gerrard’s men vanquished Shkupi, Osijek, Maribor and FC Ufa during four qualifying ties to roar into the group stage of the competition. They landed in a group of death alongside Villarreal, Spartak Moscow and Rapid Vienna, but they have made a superb start and confidence should be high among the troops.
Villarreal, who clinched fifth place in La Liga last season, are the odds-on favourites to win Group G. But Rangers went to Spain and battled to a hugely impressive 2-2 draw in their first group game. They now face a tricky game against the Austrian side, who beat Spartak Moscow 2-0 in their opener, but they should remain undaunted. Now sacked over the weekend, Thomas Letsch’s side had lost three of their opening eight games in the Austrian top flight, leaving them a massive 15 points behind league leaders Red Bull Salzburg already. They will not be overly confident heading into this game, and Rangers can capitalise.
Plenty of betting sites on the market have leading Europa League odds, make sure to read their reviews and you will see that Rangers are the favourites to win this game, and deservedly so. Gerrard has instilled a great deal of belief in his squad after overhauling it in the summer. He brought in 14 new players and showed several stars the door, and the new-look squad appears to be responding well to the former Liverpool captain’s methods.
Before Sunday's defeat to Livingston, the one blot on his CV was a 1-0 defeat in the Old Firm derby, but that was on the road and his predecessor suffered far greater thrashings there. Otherwise, Gers have done well this season, a fine achievement considering they have already played 16 games. Their odds on them lifting the trophy have dropped significantly.
Kyle Lafferty is on fire up front, and James Tavernier has also looked lively. Rangers battered St. Johnstone last weekend and even former Celtic stars are worried about their momentum under Gerrard. “Rangers last season may have won that game against St Johnstone 1-0 or 2-0, but now they are going to Europe, getting results, thrashing teams domestically and momentum is growing,” said Charlie Nicholas. “They are a giant club and now they’ve got an iconic manager. There’s no doubt Gerrard has improved the quality. Now they are starting to gel and starting to believe. Rangers lost seven league games at home last season. That will not happen this season. They will have a much better record, which means they will close the gap on Celtic. Celtic are playing poorly. Rangers have momentum. For the neutrals, it absolutely makes things interesting but as a Celtic man I am concerned, seriously concerned.”
Those sort of comments will be music to the ears of Rangers fans. The priority for Gerrard must be closing the gap on Celtic and mounting a serious title challenge, while perhaps clinching a cup. But going on a run in the Europa League would do wonders for their morale and their standing in the global game, after a long time spent in the wilderness.
They have already beaten FC Ufa and Maribor at Ibrox this season, and they should not fear an out of sorts Rapid Vienna side on Thursday. If they remain disciplined at the back and display the sort of attacking dynamism we saw against Villarreal and St. Johnstone they should soar to victory. Four points from two games would give them a commanding position in Group G and fans could start daring to dream of reaching the knockout stages of the competition.