WITH Rangers in danger of falling no fewer than 11 points behind the Ladbrokes Premiership leaders, it would be quite understandable if Steven Gerrard chose to prioritise the match against Hearts on Sunday afternoon over the Europa League game with Rapid Vienna tonight.

Qualifying for the group stages of a European competition this season has certainly buoyed supporters who have endured so much anguish and disappointment in recent years greatly and there is sure to be a huge and vocal crowd for the glamour fixture at Ibrox tonight.

Yet, Gerrard appreciates that doing well in the league is far more important than progressing on the continent to both him and the Glasgow club and could be forgiven if he rested certain key players this evening with one eye on the huge game this weekend.

The former Liverpool midfielder, though, will resist what will surely be a strong temptation to do just that. He believes he has assembled a squad that has enough strength in depth to compete on all fronts in the 2018/19 campaign. He has targeted victories in both the Vienna and Hearts matches in the coming four days.

“They are two really big games,” he said. “I think Hearts is huge. Obviously, all my focus is on Rapid, but, having been asked the question, yes, Hearts is really big.

“It is the game before we go away for two weeks. The last thing we want is to go into the international break and have two weeks of frustration because we didn’t get the result we want.

“There is no getting away from it. Hearts are top of the league and have a bit of a gap so it is important we try and reel them back in. But obviously a European game at Ibrox needs all our focus and attention first of all, before we worry about Hearts.”

Asked if he would leave players out so they were fresh on Sunday, Gerrard replied: “No, I will pick the two teams I think are strong enough to get both jobs done. I won’t prioritise any game. I’ll go in full strength both games, as strong as we can go.”

Gerrard brought in no fewer than 15 players after taking over as Rangers manager in the summer. He could welcome back Ryan Jack, the central midfielder who has been sidlelined with a calf injury since last month, this evening. But does he now have a squad that can handle the hectic schedule of both domestic and European fixtures?

“I think we’ll have to see,” he said. “I’ve got confidence in belief in my players. It’s the reason why I brought the new players in and why I kept those who were already here. I have belief that they are a good team and a good squad. But the test and the challenge for us is: can we cope?

“I understand how difficult a challenge it is with the amount of fixtures. They are slapping us right in the face every few days. But we have to cope and give it everything we have.”

Rangers certainly enjoyed an encouraging start to Group G by coming from behind twice in Spain to draw 2-2 with La Liga rivals Villarreal. But Gerrard will still be looking for an improved display against opponents who moved to the top of the section with an opening triumph over Spartak Moscow at home. To that end, he will urge his charges to go on the offensive from kick-off and try to show greater belief going forward.

As the veteran of many famous Liverpool victories at Anfield over the years, Gerrard knows what an important role the Ibrox crowd can play for Rangers this evening and believes raising the decibel levels from kick-off will aid their cause.

“In the last game in the Europa League it was evident we played well until we got to the final third and we didn’t have that confidence to hurt Villarreal, “ he said. “When we spoke at half-time the players believed and we delivered after that and got the rewards. We can’t wait until half-time in these games because maybe by then the damage is done. The onus is on us to get the crowd going. It’s another full house”

Ordinarily, a club would fancy their chances against adversaries who have just sacked their manager following a bad run of results. But in the case of Rapid, who parted company with Goran Djuricin after a third straight league defeat this weekend, it is not so simple. Dietmar Kuhbauer has been appointed as his replacement and he has taken unfashionable St Polten to second place in the Austrian Bundesliga.

Gerrard is unsure whether they will continue to play like they did under Djurcin or will have changed as Kuhbauer has only overseen two training sessions.

“He will definitely give them a lift after a difficult few weeks,” he said. “Anything can happen with a new boss in terms of formation and tactics and we will wait and see.

“We’ll have to think quick on our feet when we get the team before kick-off. Personnel-wise we’ll see their team and we’ll need to work out if they will sit back or take us on toe-to-toe.”