Legia Warsaw vs RangersUEFA Europa League, KO: 19:00 Aug 22, 2019, Polish Army Stadium
RANGERS can expect their toughest European assignment to date on Thursday night when they lock horns with Legia Warsaw for a place in the Europa League group stages.
Legia have more pedigree about them at this level than the sides that Rangers have seen off in progressing to the play-off round, however the Polish outfit are priced as high as 11/5 (UniBet) to win on the night and take a first-leg lead to Glasgow.
The Ibrox side are odds on favourites to qualify over two-legs at a general 2/5 with most firms and an away win in the Polish capital pays 7/5 (BetVictor)
Winning in Warsaw would undoubtedly put Rangers in a commanding position, however I suspect that Steven Gerrard would be satisfied if his side get back to Govan on level terms and that outcome is on offer at 11/5 (UniBet)
It's no surprise to see red hot Rangers start as firm favourite here on account of the Scottish giants winning eight of their nine competitive fixtures in all competitions this season.
What's more free scoring Rangers have hit the back of the net 28 times in their nine matches thus far – giving Gerrard's Gers a formidable average of just over three goals per game.
Hibs were hit for six at Ibrox in the Scottish Premiership recently and the Bears banged in seven goals in the last round of the Europa League when they impressively disposed of Danish side Midtylland.
Meanwhile, Legia Warsaw's quest to reach the Europa League group stages has been built on an impeccable defensive record – the Poles have yet to concede a goal in this seasons Europa League.
Although Aleexsandar Vukovic's side have not been scoring as freely as their Scottish opponents, their defensive solidity is as equally impressive – they entered the Europa League at the same stage as Rangers.
Closer to home the Military have endured a stuttering start to their domestic campaign having played four and won two, with a draw and a defeat played out in their other two fixtures.
Consequently, the Polish side currently sit eighth in the Ekstraklasa following a 1-0 win at home to Zaglebie on Sunday – Legia's fifth consecutive shut-out in all competitions.
These two sides contrasting strengths and styles of play sets up an intriguing tussle in what is sure to be a hostile and intimidating atmosphere inside the cauldron that is the Polish Army Stadium.
However, Steven Gerrard has already managed Rangers in 20 Europa League matches – only tasting defeat twice – and I expect his team to handle the heat of the home crowd and being the first team to breach Warsaw's baclikne could go a long way to silencing the lively Legia support.
The Bears will be buoyed by their fabulous form and will go into this battle believing that they can grab a crucial away goal – and I fancy them to do just that.
Goals have been flowing on the blue side of Glasgow since the start of pre-season and the Gers have been blowing teams away in the first half of matches lately and although a repeat of that in Poland is unlikely, Rangers have scored in the opening 45 minutes in seven of their nine matches this term and that makes the 23/20 (Betway) on offer for them to do so again in Warsaw tempting.
Yet, despite several resounding Rangers victories in recent weeks, Gerrard's side, unlike their opponents, are defensively vulnerable.
Rangers have only registered one clean-sheet in their last five games and that came against lowly East Fife of League 1 – and even at that the part-timers could have scored in Sundays Betfred Cup tie.
Furthermore, before heading to Bayview last weekend Rangers previous four fixtures seen both teams score so the chances of a repeat in Eastern Europe are fairly high at an enticing Evens (Coral)
In the absence of a recognised goalscorer the Poles will turn to play-maker Valerinae Givilia for inspiration and the talented midfielder is 7/1 (Bet 365) to strike anytime, whereas Rangers will be hoping that Alfredo Morelos can continue his irresistible form and take his goal tally for the season into double figures.
The much-maligned Colombian and Rangers will represent the largest threat to Legia's lean defensive record thus far and Morelos is attractively priced at 19/10 (Unibet) in the anytime goalscorer market.
Although I'm expecting a closely fought battle in the Polish Army Stadium, Rangers firepower could put them in pole position and combing Rangers on the double chance with Morelos scoring anytime appeals at 11/5 (Bet 365)
This UEFA Europa League match between Legia Warsaw and Rangers will be played on Aug 22, 2019 and kick off at 19:00