HAVING played an integral role for the Piast Gliwice side that shocked Legia Warsaw by winning the Ekstraklasa title last season, Polish football’s own version of the Leicester City fairytale, there are few people better placed to give the rundown on Rangers’ opponents in the Europa League play-off round than Tom Hateley.

Given the fact that the former Motherwell and Dundee man remains an avid follower of the Ibrox club after kicking around the dressing room at his dad Mark’s heels as a youngster, he is also able to give an informed view on the Scottish side’s chances of progression to the knockout stage. And he is optimistic about the prospects of Steven Gerrard’s men.

His confidence comes from the different trajectories he believes both teams to be on, with Legia still in something of a down-swing as they attempt to regroup from their humbling at Hateley’s club’s hands last season, and the upwards momentum he says he can feel building behind Gerrard’s team.

“I expect that Rangers will be too strong for Legia, and that’s the way the tie is being viewed over here too,” said Hateley.


READ MORE: Legia Warsaw winger says pressure all on 'favourites' Rangers who will give them easier game than previous opponents

“Most people in Scotland will remember them from giving Celtic a bit of a doing a few years ago before the result was overturned, but they are nowhere near as strong as that now.

“Legia are expected to be the side winning trophies over here and they expect to win the league, so it was a real shock to them when we won it. It is a little like a Hearts, maybe, winning the title in Scotland, so you can imagine how that would go down in Glasgow. It would have been the same in Warsaw after we won it.

“They fired their coach Ricardo Sa Pinto towards the end of last season, and Aleksander Vukovic has come in and has shaken things up a little.

“They sold probably their best player, Sebastien Szymanski, to Dinamo Moscow in the summer, while their top scorer from last season, Carlitos, is out of favour. It’s strange, because he got 16 goals last season and is a good player.

“They are playing a younger striker, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, but while he is decent, he isn’t anywhere near as prolific. He has been partnering Lucquinhas in recent games, and neither has scored this season yet.

“The main difference with Legia now is that they don’t have that 30-goal a season striker they can rely upon for regular goals.”

That’s not to say that Hateley believes the tie will be a walkover for Rangers, with Legia’s main strengths now probably lying further back.

“Midfield is definitely their strongest area,” he said. “They have a really tidy player in there, Valeriane Gvilia, who is a typical European central midfielder. He’s small, but he is neat in possession, a good technician, and has a great passing range. He’ll try to dictate the tempo, so Rangers need to make sure they don’t allow him to do that.


READ MORE: Mark Hendry: Steven Gerrard has escaped criticism for dropping £3.5m Helander out of Europa League squad

“Beside him they usually have a couple of Portuguese players, Cafu and Andre Martins. Cafu was on loan from Metz last season and they’ve just bought him for a decent fee, so he’s a good player.

“They all have decent pedigree, but Rangers have a strong midfield too and I’d expect them to more than hold their own.

“Legia don’t lose too many goals either, so you have to say they are pretty strong at the back with Cafu protecting in front. But they don’t often come up against the sort of firepower that Rangers have.”

Hateley may be watching Rangers from afar, but he has been impressed by the way the Ibrox side have started the season, and he feels that the difference between the attacking arsenals at the disposal of both sides may be the critical factor in swinging the tie the way of the men in blue.

“Steven Gerrard has attracted the likes of Jermain Defoe, and he probably won’t even start in Warsaw because of how good Alfredo Morelos is,” Hateley said.

“When I was around Ibrox as a kid, the dressing room was full of big names and big characters, and it’s great to see them getting back to that. That’s what you need to win titles and to go to these venues in Europe and do well.

“It will be an intimidating atmosphere. Any time I’ve played there, it has been really in your face with fireworks and pyrotechnics. It will be lively for sure.

“Rangers are used to playing in front of 50,000 every other week, so they should handle that. And with the strikers Rangers have, I just think they can outscore Legia and I expect them to go through.”