Rangers face Maribor tonight in the first leg of the Europa League Qualifying 3rd Round. This match represents the biggest challenge Gerrard and the team have faced this season so far. Maribor is a name well known to fans in Scottish football. They’ve beaten both Rangers and Celtic in European ties in recent years. They have started the season well, and have experience of Champions League and Europa League group stages. Rangers will need to be at their best to win this match and take something positive into the second leg.
MARIBOR RECENT FORM
Rudar Velenje (League, Away), 5-0 win
Chikhura Sachkhere (Europa League, Away), 0-0 draw
Mura (League, Home), 0-0 draw
Chikhura Sachkhere (Europa League, Home), 2-0 win
Aluminiji (League, Away), 5-2 win
Maribor seem to prefer a 4-4-2 shape. They are difficult to break down, and in Zahovic and Tavares they have dangerous players up front. Marko Suler started in central defence against Sachkhere, with Jasmin Handanovic in goals. At 35 and 40 years old respectively, both are players who have plenty of experience.
Last season, Maribor averaged around 51% possession in their matches. They played 477 passes per game, with an accuracy of just under 85%. In terms of shots on goal, they hit an average of 15 per match, with 36% on target.
Maribor rotated their team heavily in the latest league match. In terms of average age, they are a bit higher than Rangers. The team which started their second leg against Sachkhere averaged at 28 years old.
The stats and results above show that Maribor are experienced and settled. They’ve started the season well, despite rotation of their squad. It’s difficult to compare them to the likes of Osijek, but you’d expect them to be a better level than the Croatian side.
RANGERS TEAM NEWS
Rangers will be without Lee Wallace, Declan John, Graham Dorrans and Jordan Rossiter for this match. Borna Barisic is cup-tied, so will only be available in Europe if Rangers make the group stages. There was no sign of Ryan Jack in the training pictures, but there’s been no confirmation of whether or not he’ll be fit to play.
Rangers rotated players in the wide areas for the Aberdeen match. The early red card for Morelos made it difficult for the likes of Murphy or Windass to impress. You would expect Ryan Kent and Daniel Candeias to come back into the side. The back 4 won’t change unless there are any last minute issues.
PREDICTED STARTING LINE UP
Both sides have started the season well defensively. Maribor have been making noises about their defensive strength. They will be looking to score, though, and I suspect they’ll play on the counter-attack for the most part. Rangers will need to be secure in possession, which makes the potential loss of Jack a major blow. With the nerves that often exist in first leg matches and the way both sides have been playing so far, I reckon this match will end in a 0-0 draw.
How do you see the game going? Tweet us @abouttherangers with your thoughts!