Rangers resume their European campaign when they take on Bayer Leverkusen at Ibrox Stadium in the first leg of the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League round of 16.
We could say that Rangers can entirely focus on their Europa League campaign since an inconsistent run of form in the Scottish Premiership saw them remaining 13 points behind leaders Celtic. Even though they have a game in hand, the gap seems to be too big for a league where Rangers' arch rivals Celtic dominate over the past decade.
Unbeaten in their last nine matches in all competitions, Bayer Leverkusen continue to push on three different fronts and they are doing it quite well, winning eight of those games. In addition to the expansion of their European campaign, Peter Bosz's side are fourth in the German Bundesliga and also have a wonderful opportunity to reach the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) final for the first time since 2009.
Both sides have met in the 1998-99 UEFA Cup second round when Rangers triumphed 3-2 on aggregate (2-1 away, 1-1 home) thanks to a goal in each game from Finnish forward Jonatan Johansson.
Rangers Betting Preview
Despite their poor domestic form, Steven Gerrard's side continue to impress in the UEFA Europa League. They have started from the first qualifying round to reach the last-16, winning seven of their eight home games in the competition so far. In fact, The Gers are the only club to have reached this season's last-16 after beginning their Europa League journey in the first qualifying round in mid-July.
Furthermore, Rangers have not lost a European home game since a 1-0 defeat to Malmo in the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round. This makes them unbeaten in 17 European home matches (12 wins, 5 draws) and they have conceded just eight goals in those 17 games.
Braga have scored two of those eight goals in the last round (round of 32), becoming the first visiting side in 23 European matches to score more than once at Ibrox. However, a brace from winter signing Ianis Hagi inspired Rangers comeback, as Steven Gerrard's men found themselves trailing 2-0 at half-time.
After back-to-back defeats by Hearts (FA Cup) and Hamilton Academical (Premiership), Rangers returned to winning ways with a 1-0 win at Ross County on Sunday. Steven Gerrard described the victory as “something to build on”, but he also revealed that veteran-forward Jermain Defoe is “definitely out” from the upcoming Europa League clash, while two other key players are doubtful.
Captain James Tavernier and defensive midfielder Ryan Jack are both doubts with knee injuries, but Croatian left-back Borna Barisic is fully fit to boost Steven Gerrard's defensive options.
Jon Flanagan will likely deputize at right-back if the Rangers skipper is not ready to feature from the outset, while the potential absence of Ryan Jack leaves one slot for either Joe Aribo or Glen Kamara in central midfield.
Meanwhile, Filip Helander has resumed full training as the Swedish centre-back sustained a foot injury in the League Cup final against Celtic in December, but this game will come too soon for him, so either Nikola Katic or George Edmundson will partner Connor Goldson at centre-back.
Alfredo Morelos (14 goals in 15 Europa League appearances) is available again after serving a one-match suspension last time out in the Europa League. The 23-years-old Colombian striker will lead the line on Thursday and will be eager to add to his tally.
Bayer Leverkusen Betting Preview
After finishing fourth in last season's Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen thus qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stage for the 12th time. Their bid to reach this season’s Champions League round of 16 was damaged by consecutive defeats in their opening three Group D matches to Lokomotiv Moscow, Juventus and Atletico Madrid, and even though they rallied to beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 away and Atletico Madrid 2-1 at home, another home defeat by Juventus on Matchday 6 left them in third place.
Despite the two autumn defeats to Juventus and Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen have lost only three of their last 12 away games in Europe, winning five of them. This includes a 3-1 win at Porto in this season's Europa League round of 32.
Indeed, Peter Bosz's side defeated Porto, who topped Rangers' group, twice – home and away – in the last-32 to seal their spot in the last 16.
Sven Bender will be ruled out for around six weeks as he picked up a knee injury in the first half of Leverkusen's 4-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.
Top scorer Kevin Volland (11 goals in 30 matches) is still sidelined for Leverkusen, while midfielder Nadiem Amiri was only fit enough to make the bench at the weekend but could start in midweek.
The absence of experienced Sven Bender may convince Peter Bosz to field a back four against Rangers, as opposed to the 3-4-3 formation he has used mostly in the last couple of weeks.
Winter signing Edmond Tapsoba will likely keep his starting berth at centre-back and considering Sven Bender's injury, Jonathan Tah is expected to play alongside Tapsoba.
Paulinho made his first Bundesliga start over the weekend and the 19-years-old Brazilian marked it with two goals and one assist in the 4-0 win against Eintracht Frankfurt. He will hope to be rewarded with another start in Glasgow.
Daley Sinkgraven, Leon Bailey and Lucas Alario are some of the players who can refresh Bayer Leverkusen's starting lineup here. Lucas Alario, who scored in both games against Porto, will probably lead the line and the Argentinian will be supported by Kai Havertz, who also scored in both matches against Porto, Paulinho and either Moussa Diaby or Leon Bailey.
Possible Starting Lineups of Rangers and Bayer Leverkusen
Rangers: Allan McGregor – James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, George Edmundson, Borna Barisic – Ryan Jack, Steven Davis, Scott Arfield – Ianis Hagi, Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent. (4-3-3)
Bayer Leverkusen: Lukas Hradecky – Daley Sinkgraven, Edmond Tapsoba, Jonathan Tah, Lars Bender – Kerem Demirbay, Charles Aranguiz – Moussa Diaby, Paulinho, Kai Havertz – Lucas Alario. (4-2-3-1)
Inspired by their victories against Braga, Steven Gerrard's men (+220 @ BetOnline) will hope to live another memorable Europa League night, though their spirit may not be enough this time. However, we cannot underestimate a side whose home record in Europe has been particularly impressive.
Bayer Leverkusen, on the other hand, will seek revenge for the defeat in October 1998. The Germans are in brilliant form over the past couple of weeks and are +121 favorites to beat Rangers in Scotland.
Leverkusen have scored in each of their twelve games since the winter break, winning 10 of them. Peter Bosz's men have netted an impressive 32 goals in the process, outscoring the opposition in most of these matches, as they've also conceded in nine of them.
Moreover, there were three or more goals scored in four of Bayer Leverkusen's five away games in 2020, with both teams scoring in each of them.
Although there was only one goal scored in each of Rangers' last four matches in all competitions, we expect a high scoring affair this time, which is why we are backing Over 2½, 3 (2.75) Goals.