Problems with UEFA and perhaps some grumblings about one or two positions in the team aside, you won't find many unhappy Rangers fans as September approaches.
An unbeaten summer programme of games at home and abroad has led us to what will be a key week in how this season (and arguably next) develops. First of all we have the chance to qualify for the Europa League group stage tonight and secure the best part of £10m for the club before taking on Celtic at Ibrox on Sunday with a win there guaranteeing us top position by three points after a tricky selection of league games through August. Two wins and morale will be through the roof but anything less then, as is normal at Rangers, smiles will turn as quickly turn into frowns as the recent summer heat turns into an autumn chill.
The First Leg
Although Steven Gerrard may well be disappointed with the lack of an away goal from Warsaw last week, he will be pleased with our general play. Legia did create a few reasonable openings but generally were limited to set pieces as their main threat where, by and large, we also coped okay with the Poles. Meanwhile, for much of the game, Rangers kept possession well and also created a few reasonable chances ourselves with Alfredo Morelos missing the best of these late in the game. Suffice to say the manager's prediction that this tie will go down to the wire looks to be correct. However, I'd also contend if you'd said to him that we'd need only win by any score at home then he'd have been happy with that pre-match last week.
Our opponents rested the vast majority of their team in their league win over Lodz at the weekend with only 'keeper Majecki and defender Stolarski retaining their place as the came from behind to win 3-2 away from home and retain their own unbeaten start to their season. Manager Aleksandar Vuković will make changes again for tonight's game and despite several bookings in the first leg, is expected to play largely the same XI as week as they seek to emulate their 2-0 away win over Atromitos in the last round. Not to mention their win over Celtic by the same score-line at Murrayfield in 2014. It's fair to say the Poles know how to play on their travels. Let's also hope the Slovenian officials are more aware of their gamesmanship than the French ones last week.
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For Steven Gerrard, one has to imagine he will look to keep a similar team to the first leg as well. Although our most expensive signing of the window Filip Helander has done fairly well in his two domestic starts so far, the partnership of Goldson and Katic has been an extremely solid one for Rangers this summer so the Swede may well need to wait until he has full match sharpness before displacing one of the first choice pairing. At full back, Borna Barisic showed he's not always a passive observer with a fine free kick winner in Paisley and it will be interesting to see if he retains his place tonight. Jon Flanagan has proven his defensive usefulness in Europe already this term but with goals a necessity for Rangers tonight, Barisic may well get the nod on the left flank, if not from the start but certainly later in the game.
In midfield, we have a host of players we can choose from - both in terms of the deeper three and the more attacking two players. Recalled international midfielder Ryan Jack has arguably been the pick of the bunch and will be a certain starter this evening. The experienced Steven Davis and one of Joe Aribo and Glen Kamara should form the rest of the deeper three. Further forward is less difficult to anticipate. Sheyi Ojo picked up a knock in Warsaw last Thursday but trained fully yesterday so should be available tonight. As such it should be between him, Jordan Jones and perhaps Andy King for one of the positions behind the striker. Scott Arfield will surely occupy another but after 85mins last week and the same again at New Love Street, will the Canadian be better utilised from the bench later in the match? Or might Joe Aribo be pushed into a more attacking position with Glen Kamara retained deeper to provide some defensive insurance? Other options include Greg Stewart, Jake Hastie and Jamie Murphy but it would be a big surprise if they featured.
In the lone striker role, neither Morelos or Defoe haven't let us down so far this season so it's a big positive that the manager can select either and pretty much ensure a tough time for opposition defences. It will surely be the Colombian to start tonight though and he'll been keen to make the most of any opportunities a stiff Legia defence may offer. We will have to take any chances that come our way.
All things considered, it's a fool's errand to try and split these teams. Both are unbeaten in their competitive games this season, both seem strong at the back and both look capable of scoring from open play and at set pieces. Yet with home advantage, Rangers must consider themselves favourites tonight. That's not to say Legia are not a very good team or won't fancy their own chances but if we're to compete with the best Europe has to offer then these are the kind of difficult tests we must pass. A win tonight and again on Sunday is very much mission possible for this Rangers team. It's now time to prove it.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-2-1)
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