Rangers have exceeded all expectations in Europe having maintained an unbeaten streak since their Europa League first qualifying round tie and are still going strong grabbing a top of the table spot in Group G ahead of heavyweights Villarreal, Spartak Moscow and Rapid Wien. But the job is not done yet as they are expecting a tricky test on Thursday night in Russia against Spartak Moskva who, despite recent shambles, are capable of turning things around to make it to the knockouts.
The Gers, under Steven Gerrard, have emerged as a resurgent force, but a lack of creativity in the attacking third made the gaffer frustrated and furious in recent encounters. They only settled for a scoreless draw against the Russian big boys at Ibrox in their previous meeting – a game that could have been won if they had not missed some glorious opportunities. The sharpness has to be reflected upfront, and chemistry needs to be built up soon despite having an array of talented individuals in their ranks.
Borna Barisic, the promising left-back continue to be sidelined with a muscle tear whereas veteran Graham Dorrans and Jamie Murphy remain the long-term absentees following knee surgeries. Gareth McAuley is featuring for the reserves to regain fitness and closing in on making his senior debut, but the fixture against Spartak would be too soon for the Northern Irishman as Gerrard is not willing to rush his recovery with plenty to play for in the remainder of the season. Kyle Lafferty, too, is an injury doubt having missed out the Renfrewshire trip and would undergo a late fitness test prior to the final call.
Gerrard tried out both Kyle Lafferty and Alfredo Morelos upfront a few times which, however, did not work out for the Bears. The ex-Liverpool and England midfield icon, therefore, should line his boys up in a 4-3-3 formation that earned him some notable success since taking over the Rangers’ managerial role.
Wes Foderingham, the former ‘number 1’ has lost his starting role to veteran Allan McGregor who should keep his place between the sticks in this tricky tie. The 36-year-old custodian has been standout so far in their previous European outings and should inspire his side to secure yet another favourable outcome.
Skipper James Tavernier will retain his place down the right-hand side of Rangers’ ‘back four’ but must focus on his defensive responsibilities as much as he threatens with overlapping runs. Joe Worrall, the England U21 international has replaced Nikola Katic in central defence to partner Connor Goldson, and the duo should ensure a towering presence in the heart of the Gers backline. Jon Flanagan has not been impressive enough of late but is still expected to return to action in a left-back role ahead of Andy Halliday who featured as a makeshift against St Mirren in their weekend Premiership contest.
Gerrard has quite a few options to line up in the middle of the park but needs to pick out the best possible combination to have authority over the midfield battle. Ryan Jack is decent in a destructive and combative role but lacks inventiveness going forward which should pave the way for Lassana Coulibaly in their three-man midfield.
Ovie Ejaria, the young Liverpool loanee is enjoying a great run of form and must be handed a key role to showcase his control over the ball, swift skills, dribbling attributes and creative aspects in and around the box. Versatile Scott Arfield should look to create space and utilise his free role to orchestrate the front trio with his distribution and defence-splitting through passes.
Daniel Candeias had an incredible cameo against St Mirren on Saturday afternoon when he broke the deadlock late in the game and also received a bizarre marching order in closing seconds. The Portuguese, however, is expected to reclaim a starting role down the right flank and must exhibit his high work ethics in such a crucial contest.
The in-form Alfredo Morelos should lead the line ahead of Kyle Lafferty who remains an injury doubt whereas energetic Ryan Kent is tipped to keep hold of his place on the left ahead of Eros Grezda and Glenn Middleton.