STEVEN Gerrard would doubtless love to have a player with the same sort of ability and heart as Fernando Ricksen at his disposal as his Rangers side attempt to get the better of Feyenoord at Ibrox this evening.

The Netherlands internationalist distinguished himself in big European nights on many occasions during his six incident-packed years in Glasgow and would have revelled in the noise and atmosphere of what promises to be a fiercely contested encounter.

The thoughts of the supporters, players and staff at the Govan club will very much be with their former midfielder, who passed away yesterday following a long and brave battle with motor neurone disease, when referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz gets the match underway.

Gerrard, though, is confident he has the personnel with the necessary experience and quality to get their Group G campaign off and running with a morale-boosting triumph against their Dutch visitors and progress to the knockout rounds of the competition thereafter.

The Europa League provided some of the best moments of his debut season in the dugout; his men successfully negotiated no fewer than four qualifying rounds, enjoyed some fine results against Rapid Vienna, Spartak Moscow and Villarreal in the group stages and just missed out on a place in the last 32.

But the Liverpool and England great feels the individuals who were part of that run and the new recruits he has brought in since are far better placed to cope with the considerable challenges they will face on the continent against Feyenoord, Porto and Young Boys in the coming three months.

“If you go back 10 months or so, we were a very inexperienced squad,” he said. “We put that squad together with the budget we had. We had to go out and buy players who were playing under-23 football, players who were out of contract, or players who were at clubs who had never experienced European football before.

“There were probably only two or three players who had experienced Europa League or Champions League football. So I think we did ever so well last season, considering how long we had been together.

“We put up a really good fight and came close to getting out of the group. We need to use that disappointment of just missing out - and also the experience of the run we had in the competition - to try and go one better this time. It would be a huge step forward if we were to qualify for the next stage, especially from this group.”

Gerrard added: “With all due respect, it certainly goes up a few levels from domestic football. Playing against teams like Villarreal and Rapid Vienna, the level goes up. I’m sure that will the case again this year. In the group stage last year, when we maxed out and performed at our best, we got some really positive results.

“We were unlucky not to win away to Villarreal. We played against them at Ibrox with 10 men for 60 minutes. I was ever so proud with the effort and quality the players showed, even though we fell short in the last game.

“I believe if the players can match that, with the extra bit of quality we’ve got in the squad this year, I’m quietly confident we can compete to get into the next round.”

Gerrard believes that adding midfielder Steven Davis, inset, and striker Jermain Defoe – who missed training at the Hummel Training Centre yesterday – to his squad at Rangers in January has enabled them to return to the group stages and will help them to achieve their heady European ambitions.

“I always look for the pillars in my dressing room,” he said. “Scott Arfield would definitely come into that bracket and the likes Steven Davis, Jermaine Defoe and Allan McGregor.

“When I tried to put this squad together it was important that I had a spine throughout the squad that had experience and that had know-how to help me manage the dressing room not just on a match day but on a daily basis. I can’t ask any more of them.

“These are the ones that set the standard in training and set the standard on a match day and help me manage the club by setting the right example on and off the pitch. I am lucky to have such experienced players and such good people as well.”

Gerrard continued: “First and foremost, I don’t think we would have had the opportunity to compete in the group stages without those players. If you go back over the last eight games and look at some of the saves Allan has made, look at the goals that have come from Scott and Jermaine. Steven I think has been sensational for us from pre-season.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here now if it wasn’t for those players and they are going to be key for us in our ambitions to go and get out of the group stages.”

Gerrard, a former Champions League winner, came up against Dutch sides on numerous occasions in his own playing career and is an admirer of their total football ideology. He knows Rangers will have to be at their very best to prevail against the Feyenoord side managed by his old adversary Jaap Stam. That said, he has identified definite weaknesses in opponents whose domestic form has hardly been scintillating this term which he is confident his men can exploit.

“I like the technical side of it (Dutch football),” he said. “I like the way they try and construct from the goalkeeper and play out. I am a big fan of that. But it is my job as a manager to try and find flaws.

“Like most teams, Feyenoord have strengths and weaknesses and my job is to try and give the players a clear picture of that going into the game and make them aware of where they are strong and where they can be got at.

“The players are well aware of the level of opponent they are coming up against. A lot of them experienced it last year. You need the majority of your players on top form to get a positive result otherwise you’ll be found out. But I think the players know.”