RANGERS have been warned they will have to muzzle the teenage “pitbull” who has taken Belgian football by storm this season to stand any chance of ending Standard Liege’s remarkable 15 game unbeaten run at home in Europe.

Steven Gerrard’s side play their opening Europa League group game against Philippe Montanier’s team in the Stade Maurice Dufrasne tomorrow evening and have high hopes of getting off to a winning start.

The Ibrox club have done well away from home against foreign opposition in recent seasons and have recorded impressive results against the likes of Braga, Feyenoord, Legia Warsaw, Porto, Villarreal and Willem II.

Yet, Liege, who drew 1-1 with Jupiler Pro League leaders Club Brugge at home on Saturday, promise to be as difficult to overcome as any outfit they have faced on their travels since returning to continental competition three years ago.

The Reds last suffered a defeat in their Sclessin stadium in Europe way back in 2014 and in the last seven seasons they have beaten or drawn with rivals as renowned as Ajax, Arsenal, Celta Vigo, Eintracht Frankfurt and Sevilla.

Arsenal, who drew 2-2 with Liege in the Europa League group stages last term, are the only side to have taken a point off them at their intimidating 27,670 capacity arena in their last nine outings.

Whoever plays for the Glasgow club in midfield out of Scott Arfield, Steven Davis, Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara looks set to have a particularly demanding evening.

New manager Montanier, who has previously had spells in charge of Valenciennes, Real Sociedad, Rennes, Nottingham Forest and Lens, has shown he is unafraid to give youth a chance since being brought in back in June.

Nicolas Raskin, a combative, creative, tough-tackling and industrious presence in the centre of the park, has repaid the faith the experienced French coach has shown in him and then some.

“Standard are doing well this season,” said Bob Faesen of Belgian newspaper Het Belang van Limburg. “They drew with Brugge, who are the best team in Belgium, after scoring a controversial late penalty at the weekend, but it was a fair result. They have got a new coach and a lot of good young players.

“Raskin has come in to the side. He was at Gent before Liege and made his debut there as a 16-year-old. After that he didn’t push on and play. But he has been given his chance at Standard this season and he has taken it.

“He is still only 19, but he has really shone. He is a box-to-box midfielder. He can play in every position in the middle of the park. He is technically gifted, but he is also a bit of a pitbull. He can run a lot, is powerful and has a good shot. He has been one of the big surprises in Belgium football this season and will be a key player for Liege who Rangers will need to be wary of.”

However, it isn’t just the Rangers midfielders who can expect a torrid 90 minutes in their opening Group D fixture – their striker will have his work cut out getting past a gifted young defender who has been tipped to become the next superstar of Belgian football.

“The most important player for Liege is Zinho Vanheusden,” said Faesen. “He is only 21, but he is the Standard captain now. He is a real leader. He is one of the biggest talents in country. He won his first cap for the national team in a friendly against the Ivory Coast earlier this month.

“He was bought from Inter Milan last year, but he will go back there next year. It is kind of a loan deal. He was brought in to help out with Inter’s financial fair play problems and so they could bring in Romelu Lukaka from Manchester United.

“He was brought in to Standard for a €12.5m fee, a Belgian record, last year, but he will go back to Inter for €20m next year. He is seen by many people as the successor to Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen. Everybody expects him to be in the national team for a long time in the coming years.”

Faesen added: “A lot of the time Liege set up with three at the back, in a 3-4-3 formation, but they have versatile, flexible players who are adaptable and they can change formation during the course of a match. Having an individual like Raskin, who can perform a number of roles, enables them to do that.

“They are more attack-minded than defensive. They like to press teams high up the park. But they have conceded the fewest shots on goal in the Belgian league this season so that shows they are strong at the back as well.”

Up front, however, Montanier doesn’t have quite the same quality at his disposal as he does elsewhere. Selim Amallah, the Moroccan midfielder who has netted six times in the 2020/21 campaign, is his leading scorer. But three of his strikes came from the penalty spot.

“Liege’s problem is they don’t have a real goalscorer,” said Faesen. “Obbi Oulare, who played for Watford, has played up front, but he has had a lot of injury problems. The same is true of Felipe Avenatti, the Uruguayan.

“On Saturday Liege played Mikel Ange Balikwisha, who is also quite young and is more of a winger. But Oulare and Avenatti were unavailable so it was either him or nothing. Elsewhere, Jackson Muleka is also out injured.”

Standard Liege were in real danger of being demoted to the fourth tier of Belgian football earlier this year due to serious financial problems which were exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak and football shutdown.

They were denied their professional licence by their national federation due to outstanding payments to players and only won it back after appealing to the country’s court of sports arbitration.

Multi-million euro loans from famous former players Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel as well as a substantial investment from local pharmaceutical magnate Francois Fornieri, who bought 50 per cent of the shares, saved them from oblivion.

Rangers, despite their impressive showings in Europe since Steven Gerrard was appointed manager and fine recent form, can’t bank on a result in the Stade Maurice Dufrasne this week unless they perform at their very best.