EUROPE: Europa League – Qualification
Time: 8:00 PM
Venue: Ibrox Stadium (Glasgow)
Preparing for another unfancied stint in the Europa League, Rangers prepare to welcome Armenian outfit Alashkert FC to Ibrox for the first leg of their playoff round tie on Thursday night. Steven Gerrard’s men dropped down from the Champions League following defeat to Malmo over two legs, while the visitors have already beaten Kairat to progress this far.
Rangers’ first Scottish Premiership title win in 10 years – and a very convincing one at that – did not translate into a first Champions League group stage appearance in 11 years, as Malmo once again proved to be a banana skin for the Ibrox outfit during qualifying
After dumping Rangers out in the third preliminary round during the 2011-12 season, Malmo came up with the goods 10 years later to send the Scottish champions packing at the same stage this time around, as Gerrard’s men lost 2-1 home and away and must now fight for the right to reach the Europa League proper.
The ex-Liverpool captain admitted that things went “badly wrong” for his side in the second leg at Ibrox, where Alfredo Morelos’s opener and a red card for Malmo’s Bonke Innocent seemed a certain recipe for success, but the 10-man visitors struck twice in four minutes through Antonio Colak to leave Gerrard ruing a lacklustre second-half display.
A 1-0 league loss to Dundee United was sandwiched in between those two defeats to Malmo during a week where nothing could go right for Gerrard in the dugout, but his side did restore some parity with a 5-0 Scottish League Cup drubbing of Dunfermline at the weekend, with Kemar Roofe (two), Ianis Hagi, Scott Wright and John Lundstram finding the back of the net.
A fourth consecutive appearance in the Europa League group stages is not sealed just yet, but Rangers are yet to taste defeat at this stage of qualifying and certainly hold the favourites tag against their relatively unknown visitors.
The second-round curse once again bedevilled Alashkert in Champions League qualifying, as they were stopped in their tracks at that stage by Sheriff Tiraspol to drop down to the Europa League.
Having played out a goalless stalemate with Kazakhstan powerhouses Kairat Almaty in the first leg of their third-round qualifying tie, Alashkert could not make their two-man advantage count in normal time following a pulsating 2-2 draw in 90 minutes during the second leg, but the nine men of Kairat ultimately bowed out as substitute Aleksandar Glisic netted a 103rd-minute winner.
The Armenian champions only boast a very brief history in UEFA competitions, with the 2015-16 campaign representing their first stint on the continental stage, and Aleksandr Grigoryan has already led his side to their best-ever finish in Europe as they seek to defy the odds and make the Europa League group stages.
Alashkert previously faced Celtic during the first round of 2018-19 Champions League qualification and fell to a 6-0 aggregate defeat, and their title defence in the Armenian Premier League has also started miserably with back-to-back defeats to Ararat-Armenia and Van in August.
·Rangers’ form in last 5 matches: WLLLW.
·Alashkert’s form in last 5 matches: LDDLL
PREDICTION: Home Win and Over 1.5