After a 5-0 rout over Aberdeen last Saturday, coupled with a Europa League matchday one win over Feyenoord, confidence couldn't be much higher in the Rangers camp ahead of tonight's match against Young Boys in Bern.
BSC Young Boys
Tonight's opponents will be no walkover though. Like Feyenoord in the opening game, despite a few injuries, the Swiss side remain unbeaten domestically this season and only went out the Champions League qualifiers on goal difference to Red Star. They were defeated 2-1 by Porto in their opening Europa League game but came back from 0-1 down to win their league match 3-2 with Sion at the weekend. A recent 11-1 away win in the Swiss Cup - albeit over fifth tier club Freienbach - shows Young Boys certainly can score goals at home or away.
Tactically, they may well play two up front, including their target man Jean-Pierre Nsame (who equalised against Porto) and look to use their wide men to provide the ammunition for their strikers. On a positive for Rangers, they don't look quite as strong defensively so their artificial pitch may work in the favour of Morelos should we need to use the channels ourselves.
For their part, the Ibrox side will have enjoyed a few days rest since Saturday's stroll over Aberdeen and, one or two injury doubts aside, Steven Gerrard will have a strong squad to pick from this evening.
The recall of Niko Katic to the starting XI at the weekend may suggest he'll again be Connor Goldson's partner tonight considering Filip Helander didn't look at all comfortable on Livingston's own artificial surface last midweek. The aerial threat of Nsame and Young Boys' preference for playing directly and from wide areas may also play to Katic's strengths in the air so any changes from Saturday's back five appear unlikely. James Tavernier and Borna Barisic will have big nights ahead as well though with the Swiss wide players, one of which may include former Celtic right back Saidy Janko.
Moving into midfield and the attacking areas, changes from how we setup against Aberdeen are expected. Ryan Jack and Steven Davis will be amongst the deeper three players but Scott Arfield is likely to be returned to his more familiar forward role leaving Glen Kamara, Joe Aribo and Greg Docherty to fight it out to play on the left side of our usual deeper three. Given Aribo's recent head injury and Docherty's recent non-involvement then the Finnish international has to be favourite to start, despite some poor form this season. Interestingly centre-half George Edmundson did impress for 20mins in a holding role on Saturday and his height may tempt Steven Gerrard into doing the same tonight but that would represent the kind of risk the manager isn't renowned for in his short coaching career.
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The attacking three positions should be be fairly easy to predict. As touched on above, Arfield should be moved forward and will be keen to build on a fine display versus the Dons. Meanwhile, Sheyi Ojo hasn't quite persuaded every Rangers fan of all his qualities yet but it would be a surprise if he didn't start tonight given the threat he offers on the counter. For all his foibles, the attacker is fairly adept at finding space and using his pace to maintain possession further up the park. As usual, our focal point will be the fantastic Alfredo Morelos and the Colombian will surely use his usual brand of guile and strength to lead the line effectively for us tonight. His recall to the international setup is a deserved reward for his form this season.
Despite Young Boys' status as the group's second seeds, Rangers will rightly fancy their chances of a positive result in Bern this evening (remember it's a 5.55pm kick off!). However, we cannot allow understandable confidence to write off our opponents who will be equally keen to recover from defeat in Portugal to get themselves back into the group. As such Young Boys are unlikely to sit deep and whilst Rangers may well deploy different tactics to what we seen against Feyenoord, we'll also be eager to get forward and create chances ourselves.
The last time we played Young Boys was 42 years ago and we managed to progress from a two-legged Cup Winners' Cup qualifier on the basis of a 1-0 home win at Ibrox and a 2-2 draw in Bern. Now, a group competition is rather different from knockout stages but I suspect most Rangers fans would settle for that this evening with a 1-0 home in December's return. However, I'd also imagine the kind of players involved in those 1977 matches, including John Greig, Derek Johnstone and Gordon Smith (all of whom scored across the tie) might demand a better outcome from their modern-day counterparts this year.
Rangers didn't have a good European campaign at all that season and went out in the first round proper in their next match. However, we did go on to win a remarkable domestic treble after winning nothing the previous season. We've already done fairly well in European terms this season but a successful Scottish league offensive is arguably even more important. Even so, Europe and Scotland needn't be exclusive of each other and momentum can be an important factor in any success. Another positive result tonight will certainly be most welcome in that regard...
Possible Starting XI (4-3-2-1)
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