Rangers start their Europa League group stage matches tonight when they face Villarreal in Estadio de la Ceramica. The Spanish side, favourites to win the group, will be the best side Rangers have faced so far this season, despite their slow start in the league. Villarreal have never lost to Scottish opposition at home before, and Rangers have won only one of their last 17 away matches in Europe. Injuries and suspensions weaken Rangers somewhat as well. This will prove to be a very difficult test for Gerrard and his team. Below is a preview with some team news and statistics for both sides.
Real Sociedad (League, Home), 2-1 defeat
Sevilla (League, Away), 0-0 draw
Girona (League, Home), 1-0 defeat
Leganes (League, Away), 1-0 win
As evidenced above, Villarreal aren’t in the best of form at the moment. The Europa League represents a chance for their players to forget some of the pressure from their domestic campaign and enjoy their football.
Currently sitting 16th in the league, Villarreal have scored only 2 goals and conceded 3. Their expected goals rate is 4.77, suggesting they’ve missed some good chances in their league matches. In terms of expected goals against them, they are 3rd best in the league with 3.57. They average around 51.6% possession in their matches so far, which is relatively low given the level of opposition they’ve faced.
In terms of shots on goal, they have hit 51 altogether so far, with 22 of those coming from outside the box. They cross the ball around 15 times in 90 minutes, which is average in their league. Of those crosses, the balance coming from left or right is around even. With 1788 passes so far, they are the 4th highest in the league. Only 161 of those are considered long passes. They play around 10 passes per minute of possession.
In 218 defensive duels, they’ve won 19% overall. Mario Gaspar faces most and has a success rate of only 16.67%. He wins around 40% of his aerial duels though, and they only face around 32 of those every 90 minutes. Villarreal seem to allow teams to play some passes before closing them down, as they average 13 passes against them per defensive action.
So far this season, they have lined up in a 4-4-2, and use a diamond shape in midfield. With a big game at the weekend and a strong squad, it’s likely they’ll rotate their team somewhat for this match.
RANGERS TEAM NEWS
Rangers will be without Ryan Jack and Ovie Ejaria due to injury. Added to that are the suspensions of Jon Flanagan and Alfredo Morelos. Graham Dorrans travelled with the squad and was involved in training, but is unlikely to be considered an option at this stage. The team is somewhat light in midfield options at the moment. Gerrard confirmed that Kyle Lafferty will start, and it’s expected that the team will play in the 4-3-3 shape used in most matches this season.
PREDICTED STARTING LINE UP
Rangers will be looking to be hard to break down and play on the counter-attack. Ryan Kent and Daniel Candeias will be key to both aspects of that. In midfield, it’s possible that McCrorie may start instead of Halliday, but I’d imagine we’ll see the youngster start on the bench. Kyle Lafferty will have a hard shift playing up front, something he’s done many times for Northern Ireland over the years.
This one is slightly tricky to call. On paper, you’d imagine it’s a straightforward win for Villarreal. With their patchy form, there’s a chance Rangers can snatch something if they get some luck and defend really well. In a heart-over-head prediction, I’d say this match will finish 1-1. The more rational side of me expects Villarreal to win this 2-0.