A place in the UEFA Europa League group stages will be up for grabs when Scottish giants Rangers face off against Legia Warsaw in the playoffs on Thursday.
Scottish Premiership outfit Rangers will welcome Polish outfit Legia Warsaw to the Ibrox Stadium this week, as the two teams lock horns in the second leg of their 2019-20 UEFA Europa League playoffs to book a place in the group stages of the competition.
Rangers have made an excellent start to the season as they are unbeaten across all competitions to date (W9 D2). They started their Europa League qualifying campaign against St. Joseph’s, whom they thrashed 10-0 on aggregate and followed it up with a 2-0 aggregate win against Progres Niederkorn.
In the third qualifying round, Steven Gerrard’s men made light work of Danish outfit FC Midtjylland beating them 7-3 over two legs to qualify for the playoffs. In their most recent fixture, the Gers defeated St. Mirren 1-0 in the Premiership and will be looking to carry the momentum forward in Thursday night’s fixture.
Legia Warsaw, on the other hand, haven’t been as dominant as their midweek opponents but haven’t lost a single game in their Europa League qualifying campaign till date (W3 D3). The Polish giants oversaw aggregate victories over Gibraltar outfit College Europa (3-0), Finnish side KuPS (1-0) and Greek outfit Atromitos (2-0) in the three qualifying rounds on their way to the playoffs.
The first leg contest between Rangers and Legia Warsaw in Poland ended in a goalless draw leaving the tie evenly poised heading into the game at Ibrox. Ahead of the big game on Thursday, we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at the two teams;
Team News & Tactics
On-loan Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo picked up an injury in the first leg in Poland last week but is close to full fitness with manager Steven Gerrard set to take a late call on his involvement. There are no other injury concerns for the Gers heading into the crunch tie.
Gerrard is likely to make a few changes to the side that started against St. Mirren this past week, but will also have an eye on the Old Firm clash against champions Celtic coming up at the weekend while making his team selection. No changes are expected in the 4-3-3 formation that the Liverpool legend prefers, with veteran Allan McGregor starting in goal.
Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic are expected to line up at the heart of the defence for the Light Blues, meaning Filip Helander will drop down to the bench. James Tavernier is a surefire starter at right-back, while Borna Barisic’s first goal for the club at the weekend could earn him a starting berth at left-back ahead of Jon Flanagan.
Summer signing Joe Aribo has made a solid impression with his energy and drive in midfield. He should feature from the get-go on Thursday night, while Scottish international Ryan Jack will offer another box-to-box presence in the middle of the park. Northern Irishman Steven Davis will operate in the holding midfield role, with Glen Kamara dropping out of the side.
With Ojo a doubt, Jordan Jones is expected to hold on to his spot on the left flank, while Scott Arfield should retain his place in the starting XI on the right side. Spearheading the attack for the Gers on Thursday will be star striker Alfredo Morelos, who will replace Jermaine Defoe.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic; Jack, Davis, Aribo; Arfield, Morelos, Jones.
Striker Vamara Sanogo is the only major absentee due to a cruciate ligament rupture for Legia Warsaw. Manager Aleksandar Vukovic is unlikely to change the 4-2-3-1 formation that he sets his team up, but there are likely to be a few personnel changes from their 3-2 win against LKS Lodz.
Teenage goalkeeper Radoslaw Majecki is the obvious choice to feature between the sticks ahead of veteran stopper Radoslaw Cierzniak. Right-back Pawel Stolarski had a tough time dealing with Ojo in the first leg and will need to up his game on Thursday night. Portuguese left-back Luis Rocha will return at left-back ahead of Michal Karbownik.
At the heart of the defence, there are likely to be a couple of changes as summer arrival Igor Lewczuk and captain Artur Jedrzejczyk are in line to return for the big game at the Ibrox. The double midfield pivot will also see a change in personnel with Cafu and Andre Martins set to be reinstated in the lineup ahead of Domagoj Antolic and Tomasz Jodlowiec.
Valeriane Gvilia will be tasked with creating the chances in the final third starting in the No.10 role for Legia Warsaw. Support from the wide areas will come from Luquinhas and Dominik Nagy, who scored in the weekend clash against Lodz.
19-year-old Sandro Kulenovic started the first leg as the lone striker, but is likely to make way for Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who bagged a double in the weekend triumph in the league.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Majecki; Stolarski, Lewczuk, Jedrzejczyk, Rocha; Cafu, Martins; Nagy, Gvilia, Luquinhas; Niezgoda.
- Rangers are undefeated in their last seven matches in the UEFA Europa League (W5 D2).
- Their opponents Legia Warsaw have not lost once in their previous eight matches in the competition.
- Rangers have managed to keep five clean sheets in their seven UEFA Europa League qualifying fixtures this season, conceding just three goals – all of which came in the third round against Midtjylland.
- Legia Warsaw are yet to concede a single goal in this season’s Europa League qualifying campaign, having kept a clean sheet in all of their seven fixtures till date.
- Rangers have scored 19 goals in their seven European fixtures till date. In comparison, Legia Warsaw have found the back of the net on just six occasions.
Player to Watch
The Colombian striker, popularly known as El Bufalo, has been in hot form in the new season. In nine matches across all competitions, Morelos has netted nine goals, while setting up three more. The 23-year-old is the highest goal-getter in the Europa League till date, with seven goals to his name.
Having been rested for the weekend clash against St. Mirren, Morelos will be raring to go on Thursday night against Ibrox as he aims to fire his team to the group stages of the Europa League.
Rangers 2-0 Legia Warsaw
Rangers have made a solid start to the season and have been in top form especially in their European encounters till date. But, a Legia Warsaw side that is also unbeaten in Europe this term will pose a tough challenge for Steven Gerrard’s side.
Having come away with a clean sheet in front of a hostile crowd in Poland, the Gers have a slight advantage heading into the second leg. And with the support of their fans behind them, they should be able to notch up a straightforward victory on Thursday night and seal a place in the group stage of the Europa League.