RANGERS are up against Porto in their latest Europa League fixture on Thursday evening and will be up against it in one of the club's trickiest European games in the last two seasons.

Sergio Conceicao led his side to the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season - losing out to eventual winners Liverpool - and are a regular feature at European football's top table. Their elimination during the qualifying rounds at the hands of Krasnodar was a huge upset for the Russian side, and Porto can perhaps consider themselves unfortunate not to have directly qualified for the group stages by winning the Liga Nos last season.

Porto were ultimately pipped to the Portuguese title by their rivals Benfica by just two points, courtsesy of a phenomenal run from the Lisbon team in the second half of the campaign. Since they lost 2-0 to Portominese at the beginning of January, Benfica went on to record 18 wins and a single draw in their remaining 19 league games and ultimately snatched the title - and a place in the group stages of the Champions League that comes with it.

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How has this season went so far?

Porto are currently joint-third in Liga Nos, level on points with Benfica and one behind surprise leaders Famalicao. A defeat to Gil Vicente on the opening day of the campaign provided a set-back and while Porto have won every match since, there is undoubtedly a feeling that Conceicao's side are yet to hit top gear this season. Against relegation candidates Portimonense, for instance, it took a dramatic 98th-minute winner to seal a Porto win.

Then, there are the issues that Porto have had in Europe. There is the painful 3-2 home defeat to Krasnodar that resulted in Porto dropping into the Europa League, and their 2-0 loss to Feyenoord in their previous European outing. For a team with Champions League pretensions, Porto have stuttered too often this season.

What can Rangers expect?

Conceicao usually opts for a 4-4-2 formation, but has also resorted to a 4-2-3-1 occasionally this season. With a host of new signings still settling in to their new surroundings, Porto are not quite as fluid as Conceicao would like but there remains a clear identity which could cause Rangers problems on Thursday night.

The vast majority of Porto's best attacking play comes from either flank. With a number of technical wingers on the books at the Estadio Dragao, the Portuguese side often pepper the opposition box with cross after cross. And with good reason, too: most of Porto's goals this season have arrived from deliveries from wide areas. Stopping these crosses at their source is a must for Rangers on Thursday night.

Additionally, Porto have proven to be highly effective from set-pieces this season, so the Rangers players must do their best to limit these opportunities from arising where possible. The Portuguese side are a physical team and excel from corners and attacking free-kicks; if Rangers are to get anything from this match, they will need to be aware of this threat.


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Who are their key players?

It's fair to say that Porto are not short of match-winners and there are a few key individuals that Gerrard will need to ask his players to keep a close eye on. Central midfielder Danilo Pereira, a regular for the Portuguese national team, is a key player in the middle of the park and boasts a passing accuracy of over 90% in all competitions this season.

The left side of Porto's team has looked particularly effective in recent fixtures and Rangers will need to defend resolutely here. Left-back Alex Telles, formerly of Juventus, is a fine crosser of the ball and often rampages forward to join his side in attacking phases of play. Further forward is new signing Shoya Nakajima, who has had an inconsistent start to life at the club since joining from Al-Duhail for 12 million euros this summer, but who clearly possesses bags of technical ability. The Japanese winger picked up two assists for his country in the recent international break and could be a handful for James Tavernier if he starts on Thursday night.

Cape Verdean striker Ze Luis was recruited from Spartak Moscow in the summer and has already notched seven goals in 11 appearances for the Liga Nos runners-up so far this season. Additionally, Moussa Marega - who sometimes drops into a wide-right position - is fast, powerful and a willing runner to get on the end of speculative balls forward.

On the right, Brazilian Otavio is a regular starter for Conceicao with Jesus Corona, a converted winger, often filling in at right-back this season. Having spent the majority of his career as a right midfielder, the Mexico internationalist is effective going forward and is capable of excellent deliveries into the oppostion box.