Scottish heavyweights Rangers will face off against La Liga side Villarreal in their penultimate Group G encounter of the 2018-19 UEFA Europa League.
Rangers will welcome Spanish club Villarreal to the Ibrox Stadium on Thursday night, as they look to take a step towards qualification to the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League.
Under former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard, the Gers have made a solid start to the 2018-19 campaign and currently sit third in a closely-contested Group G, level on points with second-placed Spartak Moscow and just one adrift of leaders Villarreal.
Rangers come into the crucial game having picked up back-to-back victories against Motherwell and Livingston FC in the Scottish Premiership. And a win on Thursday would almost ascertain their progression to the Europa League Eound of 16, provided there is no major slip-up in their final group game against Rapid Vienna.
Villarreal, group leaders with six points from four matches, have won just one of their last six matches across all competitions – a 2-1 victory over Real Betis this past weekend, but have lost only one as well (D4).
Javier Calleja’s men were held to a 2-2 draw by Rangers in the reverse fixture at home in September and with the qualification to the next round at stake, the Yellow Submarine will be intent on getting all three points at the Ibrox on Thursday. The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
On-loan Liverpool attacker Ryan Kent is sidelined for the Gers with an injury, along with summer signing Borna Barisic. Jamie Murphy has been ruled out for the season, while midfielder Graham Dorrans is also unavailable for the home team.
Gerrard is likely to make a couple of changes to the team that defeated Livingston 3-0 at the weekend. Veteran goalkeeper Allan McGregor has firmly established himself as the No. 1 at the club, having joined Rangers this past summer. He will feature from the get-go for the Gers on Thursday night.
Club captain James Tavernier is a guaranteed starter in the right-back slot, while Jon Flanagan could come in for Andy Halliday on the opposite side. Connor Goldson has been a huge hit at the Ibrox since arriving in the summer and should start at the heart of the Rangers defence, along with on-loan defender Joe Worrall.
Ryan Jack should keep hold of his spot at the base of the midfield ahead of Lassana Coulibaly for the midweek game. Scott Arfield has become an integral part of the team since joining on a free transfer in the summer and should start against Villarreal, with Liverpool loanee Ovie Ejaria set to take up the third midfield slot.
Portuguese winger Daniel Candeias is set to feature out on the right flank, while youngster Glen Middleton should be deployed on the left, having impressed at every opportunity that has come his way. Upfront, Alfredo Morelos should replace Kyle Lafferty for the Glasgow outfit.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Worrall, Flanagan; Arfield, Jack, Ejaria; Candeias, Morelos, Middleton
Manu Trigueros came off injured in the weekend fixture against Real Betis at the weekend is unlikely to feature on Thursday night. Bruno Soriano and Javi Fuego are believed to be close to a return, but may not be rushed back into action against the Scottish giants this week.
The Yellow Submarine are expected to line up with a diamond formation in the middle of the park. In goal, Sergio Asenjo is likely to get the nod ahead of Andres Fernandez. He will be shielded by a back four comprising of Mario Gaspar and Alfonso Pedraza Sag as the full-backs, with Ramiro Funes Mori and Victor Ruiz in the centre.
21-year-old Santiago Caseres should hold on to his spot at the base of the diamond. Seasoned campaigner Santi Cazorla, who is finding his feet again after a prolonged spell out on the sidelines, should feature from the kick off, with Manu Morlanes likely to come into the team in place of the injured Trigueros.
Lining up at the tip of the midfield for the visitors on Thursday will be the immensely talented Pablo Fornals, who has scored twice in the Europa League thus far.
Carlos Bacca, who scored against Rangers last time out, should get the nod ahead of Samuel Chukwueze in attack. He will be partnered by summer signing Gerard Moreno, who was on the scoresheet against Betis at the weekend.
Probable Lineup (4-1-2-1-2): Asenjo; Gaspar, Ruiz, Funes Mori, Pedraza; Caseres; Morlanes, Cazorla; Fornals; Bacca, Moreno
- Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is yet to lose a game at the Ibrox Stadium, since taking over the reins of the club in the summer (W11 D3).
- Villarreal have tasted defeat only once in 13 group games away from home in continental competitions.
- However, the Yellow Submarine have failed to win any of their last six matches on the road, and are winless on their three past visits to Scotland in European competition (D2 L1).
- The Gers have scored thirty goals in their last ten home games across all competitions, ten of which have come in the last two fixtures.
- Rangers are winless at home against Spanish opponents in each of their last six encounters (D4 L2), last beating Osasuna in September 1985.
Player to Watch
The 22-year-old Colombian striker is in the form of his life and has been the driving force behind Rangers’ solid start to the 2018-19 campaign. Morelos has already bagged 16 goals in 26 matches this term – just two short of the tally he managed in all of last season. The striker has also chipped in with nine assists.
El Bufalo grabbed a double at the weekend against Livingston and having missed the reverse fixture against Villarreal due to suspension, he will be gunning to take the field and fire his team to an important victory on Thursday night.
Rangers 2-2 Villarreal
Villarreal have been struggling in La Liga this season and find themselves in the 16th spot. But, they will be buoyed by their victory this past weekend over Real Betis. They might not have been in the best of form, but certainly have the quality to hurt the hosts on Thursday night.
Rangers, on the other hand, have not tasted defeat even once in all competitions at the Ibrox and have conceded just once in their two home games in the Europa League thus far. Yet, the manner in which they threw away their lead on three occasions in the 4-3 defeat to Spartak Moscow in their previous European fixture shows that they are fallible.
With the qualification to the next round at stake, both teams will come with an intent to win and it promises to be an entertaining tie at the Ibrox, with plenty of goals on the cards. And we at The Hard Tackle expect the game to end in a high-scoring draw in Scotland, like it did in Spain, and in each of the two previous encounters.