Rangers and the last 32 – the team no one wants

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GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 01: James Tavernier of Rangers and Calvin Bassey of Rangers celebrate at full time after the UEFA Europa League play-off match between Rangers and Galatasaray at Ibrox Stadium on October 01, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Attention turns in earnest today to the Europa League last 32 draw.

Rangers, of course, are comfortably in the tournament’s KO stage as a seeded team, and rather than talking about who we do and don’t want, we want instead to simply savour this moment of the first time Rangers have been seeded at this level of a European competition since 2006/07’s UEFA cup.

Of course, back then, the format was totally different, with just four group games and much weaker opponents that PLG’s Rangers overcame, but a group win is a group win and Rangers managed it during this period. Furthermore, the UEFA Cup in those times even had clubs as poor as Aberdeen in it during the group phase, and the competition didn’t get remotely serious till it entered its KO stage.

Now the Europa League is a lot stronger, and has a lot of Champions League quality sides in it, so for Rangers to top their group shows how far this club has come in a very short space of time.

And that’s the nub of this today – Rangers, as a seeded team, avoid some true heavyweight sides like Arsenal, Man Utd, Roma, Napoli and Spurs, all of whom are traditional Champions League outfits.

Of course, the level of form of your Arsenals, Utds and others is debatable, with arguably the weakest Arsenal and Utd for many many years.

But either way Rangers get the privilege of facing weaker sides in the last 32, with of course a role reversal where Braga, for example, are an unseeded team this time, where last time they were the opposite.

The truth of Rangers’ exploits in the past two seasons is stunning, remarkable. Steven Gerrard has made his men a team to fear, a side no one will want in the last 32.

And the money made along the way only helps as well, as we’ve illustrated.

Five years ago we had no Europe, and only a small bit of hope for the future. The best we could do was friendlies, and being gubbed by Leipzig. Now we’re comfortably in these draws and we’re among the best teams Europe has to offer.

What a turnaround.