STEVEN GERRARD faces his greatest European test yet as Rangers manager tonight when he takes his side to Germany for the second leg of their last-16 Europa League tie against Bayer Leverkusen.

Peter Bosz’s side won the first leg at Ibrox 3-1 back in March immediately before the sporting shutdown, leaving the Premiership runners-up up against it if they are to progress to the last eight of the tournament.

The challenge facing the Rangers players is a daunting one. At least three goals are required if the Glasgow club are to make it to the quarter-finals, and the Germans are likely to be more match-fit than the visitors. Since the first leg, Rangers have played just one competitive game – last weekend’s 1-0 win over Aberdeen – while over the same period, Leverkusen have played 12, including a 4-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the final of the German Cup.

As if that wasn’t enough of a headache for Gerrard, the Ibrox boss will also be without the services of the injured Nikola Katic, the suspended Glen Kamara and out of his six summer signings, only Ianis Hagi is eligible to take part. That means we’re likely to see a few faces on the bench that we haven’t seen in a while and could leave Gerrard short of options in the event of an injury.

But as anyone who was at that extraordinary game against Braga in Govan six months ago will tell you, the tie is not yet over. Any success for Rangers, either pyrrhic or otherwise, may seem unlikely – but Leverkusen are not perfect, and there are weaknesses that can be exploited. And, more pertinently for Gerrard, lessons to be learned from the first leg.



Last season, Rangers were at their best when facing opponents who would bring the game to them and allow opportunities for the likes of Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos and Hagi to pounce forward on the counter at pace. Kent’s winning goal against Braga in Portugal arrived in such a fashion and if Rangers are to have any hope this evening, they must do the same again.

Leverkusen play with an aggressive press fairly high up the park, doggedly chase after the ball and simply possess better players. If the Rangers defenders try to play their way around the opposition’s harrying, they’ll get caught out and concede. Instead, the likes of George Edmundson and Connor Goldson – tonight’s likely pairing at centre-back – will need to either go long themselves or distribute the ball to one of the full-backs to give the forwards something to chase onto.

No other Bundesliga team pressed as aggressively as Leverkusen last year, with their opponents averaging just eight passes per spell of possession before Bosz’s men won it back. Rangers must be prepared to face immediate pressure whenever they have the ball - and will need to get it clear of dangerous areas if they are to stand any chance of victory.



As a former Ajax manager, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Bosz likes his side to enjoy plenty of the ball and build out from the back. This can create a temptation for one or two of Rangers’ forwards to engage a defender in possession in the hope of catching them out and capitalising on an error, but Gerrard’s players must remain disciplined.

By charging in to win the ball back, teams find themselves playing into Leverkusen’s hands. The defenders simply move the ball around, advance up the park and with an opposition player or two already committed, use the numerical advantage to turn the screw and find a way through the backline. Rangers cannot afford to fall for this ploy, and the good news for supporters is that they have faced a similar challenge earlier on in their European run.

Against Braga, they were impressively disciplined. Rangers’ shape off the ball was superb, constricting the space on the park to a minimum and refusing to engage the opposition players until they crossed the halfway line. If the players can employ a similar strategy this evening, then they will give themselves a fighting chance.



Leverkusen, like many teams that utilise a strategy of intense pressing, are at their most vulnerable when in transition. When the ball is won back, the likes of Morelos, Hagi and Kent must be willing to spring forward and drive at the Germans before they are given the opportunity to organise once again.

This means that the Rangers midfielders and attackers must be wary of each other’s position constantly, with a particular onus on Kent and Hagi to burst into pockets of space during transitions. Gerrard’s side will need to be direct and incisive when the opportunities arise and cannot afford to simply recycle possession are patiently approach the opposition goal.

Risks will need to be taken and the players cannot be afraid of misplacing a few passes in the process. Yes, Rangers will lose the ball more often than not but if they can capitalise on the occasions where they don’t, they have the ability to cause the Leverkusen defenders all sorts of problems.

If Rangers play a safe, possession-based game, they’ll lose convincingly. If they don’t, then they might just have a chance.