Rangers face FC Ufa in the Europa League Qualifying Playoff Round at Ibrox tonight. If you’d asked Rangers fans before a ball was kicked this season if they expected to get this far in the draw, many would have told you there was little chance of it. Now, as the team gets set to face the Russians, fan expectation has ramped up. Rangers are favourites in this tie after beating Maribor to get to this stage. The Slovenian side is seen as much stronger than Ufa, who are in European football for the first time in their short history. Despite that, there is no doubt Rangers will have to produce a good performance in both legs if they want to make the group stages.
FC UFA RECENT FORM
Anji (Home, League), 3-0 win
Progres (Home, Europa League), 2-1 win
Krasnodar (Home, League), 1-0 defeat
Progres (Away, Europa League), 2-2 draw
Dynamo Moscow (Away, League), 3-0 defeat
FC UFA APPROACH AND KEY PLAYERS
The Russian side, who finished 6th in their league last season, prefer to play with a back 5 in matches. In front of that, they alternate between 3 in midfield and 2 up front, or vice versa. The players in the full-back positions don’t tend to get forward too much. That makes them difficult to break down as they ensure they have numbers in defence, at all times. At Ibrox, they’ll be looking to frustrate Rangers and try to snatch a goal on the counter-attack.
To that end, there are three main players to look out for. In goals, Alexsandr Belenov is both experienced and talented. He has a big physical presence and is considered by many to be the best player Ufa have. In midfield, Croatian Ivan Paurevic will be important to them. He’s a 6 foot 4-inch central midfielder, who scored both goals in the away leg against Progres to get the team through to this round. He’s played for Ufa for a while now, returning there after a move to Huddersfield didn’t work out for him.
In terms of attacking, they use the pace and strength of Sylvester Igboun. The Nigerian, once part of the Super Eagles national team, is a real threat as he is quick enough to get away from players if given the space. Ufa will sit deep and allow Rangers to come at them, so he’ll need to be denied the service.
RANGERS TEAM NEWS
It’s mixed news for Rangers in terms of player availability. Jamie Murphy was confirmed as being out for the season by manager Steven Gerrard. It’s a real blow for the winger who has tended to have some sort of impact in most games he’s played for Rangers. Also missing out tonight is Lassana Coulibaly, who hasn’t yet recovered from the thigh injury he sustained against St Mirren. They join cup-tied Barisic and long-term injured Rossiter and Dorrans in being unavailable for the game.
The good news comes in the form of Kyle Lafferty, signed by the club yesterday. He will be registered as a wildcard and is likely to be on the bench. Lafferty will be determined to make a great start to his Rangers return and is known for scoring important goals. If he’s introduced to the match at any point tonight, the fan reaction will be another boost to the team.
PREDICTED STARTING LINE UP
Because of injuries, I think the team picks itself for tonight. There’s not an awful lot of options in various areas of the pitch.
Tonight may feel a little bit different than the other European matches at Ibrox so far. Shkupi at home was the first competitive match and the fans were excited. Both Osijek and Maribor were recognised as dangerous teams, and the crowd backed what were good performances from the players. For this match, there’s going to be an expectation that Rangers will win. With Ufa setting up to be hard to beat, that could lead to some impatience. However, if Rangers can make a quick start, the Ibrox atmosphere will be able to drive the team on yet again.
I’m going to predict a 2-0 win for Rangers in this match.