Glasgow will play host to a big European tie this Thursday night. For the first time in a long while it is not Celtic but Rangers representing Scotland at this advanced stage of a European competition. They take on Bayer Leverkusen for their round of 16 first leg in the Europa League. Rangers have reached the round of 16 thanks to a gargantuan effort in what has been a marathon season.
This match will be their 17th of the Europa League campaign. In the last round, they mustered an accumulator-busting comeback when they charged from two goals down to beat Braga at Ibrox. That was before completing the triumph with a 1-0 win in Portugal. A mightily impressive feat considering how well playing Braga had been beforehand.
Leverkusen also beat Portuguese opposition in the round of 32, sweeping aside Porto with a 5-2 aggregate win. The Germans beat Porto both home and away. It was their first Europa League experience this season after being parachuted into the competition. As you might remember they finished third in their Champions League group.
One of the form teams in the Bundesliga, Leverkusen are unbeaten in five matches, winning four along the way. Their most recent victory was a convincing 4-0 battering of another Europa League competitor, Eintracht Frankfurt. A win which featured goals from Kai Havertz, Bellarabi and a double from Paulinho.
Shall he stay or shall he go?
Havertz has been the star of Leverkusen’s season and it’s not hard to see why the 20-year-old is wanted by a score of big clubs around Europa. With four goals and five assists in his last seven matches, don’t be surprised to see him wreak havoc at Ibrox. Having said that, Ibrox has been a fortress for Rangers in Europe this season. They remain unbeaten with seven wins from eight. Yet, despite their European adventure, the mood has soured around the club in recent months.
This is due to the club’s poor domestic form. Four wins from nine matches have Rangers well off the pace in the title race. Manager Steven Gerrard has lost some steam lately looking frustrated over his players. We expect Leverkusen to pile on further pressure on Steve G. and co. with a win here. The Germans simply outclass the home side in probably every aspect, perhaps with the exception of pure will. Even that seems to have left Rangers-players lately.