Rangers vs Bayer LeverkusenUEFA Europa League, KO: 20:00 Mar 12, 2020, Ibrox
THE Europa League has offered the only ray of light for Rangers in what has been a bleak few months and they will be hoping a packed Ibrox can inspire them to a surprise win over Bayer Leverkusen.
Rangers head into Sunday's Old Firm clash trailing Celtic by 13 points and look set to end another season without a trophy after a dismal Scottish Cup exit to Hearts.
Steven Gerrard has come under serious strain for the first time as a manager but retains the backing of the board and most fans.
A big reason for that has been their charge from the Europa League qualifiers all the way to the last 16, with a talented Braga side beaten home and away in the last round.
Rangers have been seriously impressive against the likes of Braga, Porto and Feyenoord, which makes their horrendous domestic form even more difficult to fathom.
After failing to beat Hearts, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Hamilton and St Johnstone since returning from the winter break, Gerrard's side stopped the rot at the weekend with a 1-0 win at Ross County.
That brought up my tip of a one-goal winning margin but Rangers turned in another poor performance and only escaped with the points thanks to a deflected Ryan Kent strike.
Their impressive form in the first half of the season was based on the goals of Alfredo Morelos but the Colombian (below) has netted just once since the winter break.
He looked totally disinterested against County but may come alive again in Europe as he knows that is where the scouts will be judging him.
Even with Morelos back on form, however, it's a massive ask for Rangers to beat a Leverkusen side who have lost just once in their last 13 games.
The Bundesliga side beat Porto home and away in the last round and their recent run has also included a 4-3 win over Dortmund and a 1-1 draw away to an RB Leipzig side who demolished Spurs in the Champions League.
Bayer warmed up for Ibrox with a 4-0 win at home to Frankfurt and will be confident of seeing off Gerrard's side.
How the bookies view it
Gers are still unbeaten at home in Europe under Gerrard but Leverkusen are a cut above anything they've faced so far so my money is on the Germans, especially with Ryan Jack and James Tavernier injury doubts for Rangers.
Head to head
These side have met just once before, when this tournament was called the UEFA Cup, and it was Rangers who came out on top in 1998.
They won 2-1 in Germany thanks to goals from Gio van Bronkhorst and Jonatan Johansson (below) then the sides drew 1-1 at Ibrox in the return.
Players to watch
And his displays have been so poor of late that Gerrard might even have considered leaving out the Colombian and going with Florian Kamberi up top.
Morelos, who has earned a starting slot, is 21/10 with 888Sport for a goal here.
I thought a wiser investment would be Ianis Hagi, who netted twice against Braga at Ibrox. The Romanian is 4/1 with 888Sport for a goal but has been left on the bench.
Leverkusen wonderkid Kai Havertz is being courted by Europe's biggest clubs and scored his ninth of the season in the weekend win over Frankfurt.
The 20-year-old is 49/20 with 888Sport for a strike at Ibrox and that looks good value.
Anything else catch the eye?
The Ibrox pitch is an awful state and it was so bad that Leverkusen were prevented from training on it. It was also a potato field for the Braga game and I thought that might lead to a lack of goalmouth action but instead we were treated to a five-goal thriller.
Bayer have scored two or more goals in seven of their last eight games so try over 2.5 match goals at 89/100 with Marathonbet. The Germans are 11/10 with Bet365 to net over 1.5 goals and I like the look of that.
I can see there being some meaty challenges on the muddy pitch, especially in central midfield. Rangers star Steven Davis is 8/1 for a card with Bet356 and that looks overpriced.
This UEFA Europa League match between Rangers and Bayer Leverkusen will be played on Mar 12, 2020 and kick off at 20:00