Rangers vs Legia WarsawUEFA Europa League, KO: 19:45 Aug 29, 2019, Ibrox
THURSDAY night at Ibrox heralds the start of a potential season defining three day period for Steven Gerrard and Rangers.
There is the small matter of the first Old Firm clash of the season this Sunday, but before locking horns with Neil Lennon's Celtic, Rangers and Legia Warsaw will go to war for a place in the Europa League group stages.
A cagey 0-0 draw was played out in the Polish capital last Thursday night and as such this playoff tie is delicately poised when both sides reconvene in Glasgow.
However, Gerrard's Gers have outscored most of their opponents with ease in the early months of the season and that is perhaps reflected in Rangers being as short as 4/9 (Ladbrokes) to triumph.
Furthermore, the Bears have yet to be beaten in 11 outings thus far and as such Legia are a high as 15/2 (BetVictor) to leave Govan victorious in 90 minutes.
Yet, a score draw would be enough to see the Military march into the group stages, whereas a repeat of last weeks 0-0 draw is the only pathway to extra time and the possibility of penalty kicks – a draw of any kind in normal time pays 16/5 (William Hill)
Aleksandar Vukovic's side will be confident of securing another shut out against the Scottish giants, and rightly so with Warsaw's watertight defence yet to concede a goal in seven Europa League outings this season – an eighth clean-sheet for Legia is available at 4/1 (William Hill)
Be that as it may the Poles stubborn backline was breached twice against LKS Lodz on Sunday, however Warsaw manager Vukovic rung the changes with Rangers in mind as his side ran out 3-2 winners.
Bears boss Gerrard also rotated his squad last weekend when watching his team grind out a 1-0 win against Jim Goodwin's St Mirren.
It wasn't pretty in Paisley, but it was the type of test that may prove to be invaluable preparation for this Europa League playoff as the Ibrox side will again more than likely have to be patient in trying unlock a lean defence.
Despite a lack of goalmouth action last Thursday night, there was no shortage of bookings – six in total were racked up – and I suspect Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic could be busy taking names on Thursday night.
Legia landed four yellow cards last week and more could follow in trying to restrict Rangers, not to mention the fact that the man in middle at Ibrox dished out a notable 36 cards in eight European assignments last term.
Therefore, card markets are definitely worth exploring for what should be another fiery and closely-fought contest and with that in mind I like the look of the 4/5 (William Hill) on offer for a repeat of the Polish side picking up the most booking points.
I tipped Rangers to grab an away goal in Poland but they were unable to find a way through Warsaw's formidable back four – however the Gers will be a different animal in front of a packed out Ibrox.
Alfredo Morelos spurned Rangers best opportunity to score in the Polish Army Stadium and the Colombian striker is 7/2 (Bet 365) to score the first goal of this tie.
Yet, I would be more inclined to opt for the much-maligned Morelos in the anytime goalscorer market at 5/4 (Bet 365) to add to his tally of nine goals thus far – seven of which have been scored in the Europa League.
However, don't expect a goal-fest in Govan on account of the Military's rigid rearguard.
Another tight tussle could be in store following last weeks tense goalless draw and both respective managers appear to share that view after making it known that practising penalty kicks has formed part of their preparation for this playoff.
An away goal for Warsaw would prevent a penalty shootout and could prove catastrophic to Rangers quest to reach the group stages.
However, Rangers have been red hot at Ibrox in recent months – losing only once in their last 20 matches – and they have already rattled in 17 goals in four matches in their own backyard this season.
Roared on by a rowdy Rangers support, Gerrard can lead his troops back into the Europa League group stages, however it could be a nervy night and the home faithful may have to be patient.
Therefore, an alternative angle to consider is combining Rangers to qualify and under 3.5 goals at 4/6 (Bet 365)
This UEFA Europa League match between Rangers and Legia Warsaw will be played on Aug 29, 2019 and kick off at 19:45