Given what happened in Luxembourg two years ago, on the face of it last week's 2-0 home win over tonight's opponents should make Rangers fans feel more comfortable than we did before the 2017 loss. Yet Progrès showed enough defensive character and attacking threat at Ibrox last Thursday to ensure that anything other than a wholly committed and professional display from Rangers could cause us problems again tonight.
Steven Gerrard was thus right to say in yesterday's press conference that works need to be done. Sure, as has been the case in most of our games to far this summer, Rangers dominated last week and should have won by more than the two goals we did score. Slackness in attack for the first 60-70mins resulted in good chances being missed whilst being too open in midfield, and with our use of the ball in defensive areas, could have cost us badly if it wasn't for poor finishing from the visitors late on. Once again Allan McGregor showed his worth in one-on-ones to avoid the loss of a crucial away goal.
A two goal cushion it is though and that is a nice lead to take to the Grand Duchy. It does mean that Progrès need to be more expansive than they were at Ibrox and that should leave us more space to work with in attacking areas. Even so, I doubt the home side will go all out from kick off and I think the opening period may well be similar to last week's match. Hopefully that will allow us to settle well and allow us to retain possession to make it difficult for the Lux side to get back into the tie. An early goal for us would be a big help as well and would surely kill any threat of lightning striking twice against Progrès.
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The manager has already confirmed Steven Davis didn't travel so we're one important player down already. Add in a vital league opener at Kilmarnock on Sunday then Gerrard may well be pragmatic in his team selection and tactics tonight. That's not to say key players will be left out - that's very unlikely - but he may well stiffen up the side through the selection of guys like Kamara and Docherty, giving more licence to wide players such as Tav and, possibly Barisic too on the left, to stretch the game on the flanks. Given the impressive summer displays so far the manager certainly has plenty of options at his disposal.
Injury aside I'd expect McGregor to start with Tav, Barisic, Goldson and one of Edmundson, Erlander and Katic forming the rest of the back four. It seems fairly clear Connor Goldson remains his first choice central defender with the other three offering excellent depth. Such quality also offers the option of a back three and it might not be beyond the realms of possibility to see that tonight. I'm happy for any of the four to feature.
Moving into midfield and with Davis ruled out already that leaves a place up for grabs alongside likely starters Ryan Jack and Joe Aribo. Because we'll be keen to retain possession and use the ball well from deeper areas, we can expect Glen Kamara to retain his place from Sunday's friendly with Derby though we do have the option of using Scott Arfield further back.
However, the Canadian's threat in attack with ability to support the striker and score goals himself should see him deployed just behind either Morelos or Defoe. That leaves a choice of several players for the other supporting role and that selection will depend on how confident the manager is. Does he opt for another creative player such as Ojo, Jones or Stewart? Or will he prefer the industry of Greg Docherty to help keep the door shut at the back and offer a box-to-box threat going forward? I suspect the latter but, again, it's good to be less predictable than we were for periods last season.
Finally we have the striker role. Jermain Defoe has had a good summer and can be relied upon to find space, make good attacking runs and score goals in most games he plays. For that reason, he's a fine choice any time he plays. Yet, for me, Alfredo Morelos remains our best player and, despite all the transfer speculation, has shown already this season he's still focused on the job at hand. As such I'd be surprised if he didn't start tonight unless the manager wants to keep him fresh for Sunday.
All in all, just like two years ago, we travel to Luxembourg as big favourites to win the tie. However, unlike two years ago, we have the experience of knowing Progrès aren't there to make up the numbers and will, at the very least, be well organised and carry a particular threat from set-pieces. We can ignore that at our peril or roll up our sleeves and get the job done. Let's hope it's the latter.
Possible XI (4-3-2-1):
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