Tomorrow night Rangers do something we have not done for the lion’s share of a decade – we will compete with our European peers in the group stages of European competition.
The last time Rangers were in any group stage was 2010, and that Champions League group with Man Utd and Bursaspor – remember all that? Kenny scored against the Turks then they signed him the following January.
Here we are in 2018 and Kenny is no longer part of Rangers (albeit not by much) and a new era, a new Rangers squad, and a new manager takes their maiden bow in a serious European competition for their first time, and the club’s first in far too long.
Of course, manager Steven Gerrard has won this tournament before, in its previous form of the Uefa Cup, and Rangers got to the final a decade ago. How things have stayed the same yet changed.
But tomorrow is his first time as manager, and as we illustrated earlier, the squad is not at full health for the trip to Spain to meet Villarreal, and while we anticipate this match with great hopes, there is no expectancy on our part to get the three points.
With no Alfredo Morelos or Ryan Jack, Rangers are weakened in the eyes of some – Morelos has a couple of UEL goals and is capable at this level, while Jack was monstrous against Osijek in particular before injury laid him out (again).
The best Rangers have played has been with the 4-3-3 – indeed, all the poor displays (Shkupi, Motherwell, Celtic) were using different systems and none worked. If Gerrard is wise, he will stick with 4-3-3 for tomorrow.
As for what personnel, the XI mostly selects itself in light of the absences.
The back five will be McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic and Barisic.
Midfield will be Halliday, Coulibaly and Arfield, while up front Kent and Lafferty are certain starters with only really the final slot in attack up for grabs between Daniel Candeias and a slim shout for Eros Grezda or Glenn Middleton.
We can’t imagine much different from:
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic; Halliday, Coulibaly, Arfield; Candeias, Lafferty, Kent
Whatever team lines up though, this really is a historic match. This level of competition is where Rangers should be.
It’s been far, far too long.