Tonight, Rangers face Maribor in the second leg of their Europa League Third Round Qualifying match. The 3-1 lead they hold from the match at Ibrox gives them a strong position but by no means an easy one. Maribor have been in good form in the league, and are certainly confident they can turn the tie around. This is a match where Rangers will need to play very well to ensure a positive outcome.
MARIBOR RECENT FORM
Mura (League, Home), 0-0 draw
Chikhura Sachkhere (Europa League, Home), 2-0 win
Aluminij (League, Away), 5-2 win
Rangers (Europa League, Away), 3-1 defeat
Gorica (League, Home), 5-0 win
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM THE FIRST LEG
It looks like Maribor have no injuries or suspensions of note going into the second leg. They may look to make a couple of changes, but their team is likely to be very close to what we saw at Ibrox. They prefer a 4-4-2 lineup, and captain Tavares up front is a threat. Maribor edged possession in the first leg, 51 per cent to 49, but attempted fewer passes than Rangers actually completed.
Of their 11 shots on goal, only 3 were on target. It’s fair to say that they could have scored with one of the set pieces at least. The goal by Viler was a great strike, and a chance for Dervisevic in the first half could have led to more. Despite that, their Expected Goals measurement on the night was 0.77, so scoring just once was deemed fair. Rangers had an xG of 2.72 by comparison.
The Maribor manager has been very vocal this week in his belief that he knows how to beat Rangers. In the first half, when Maribor threatened most, they got a lot of joy on the right-hand side. They were also able to find space just in front of the Rangers back 4 due to the way Coulibaly would press but get caught on the wrong side. Both of those issues were sorted in the second half, but it’s likely the Maribor manager feels they are weaknesses in our side. Tonight, Rangers are bound to have Ryan Jack starting, who will help hugely in terms of discipline in midfield. At left back, Flanagan is suspended, so it looks like Halliday may start there. With his lack of recent games, and not being entirely comfortable in that position, he may need some protection from the midfield.
It was clear Rangers targetted Suler in defence, with Morelos giving him an absolutely torrid time. I’d imagine something similar will be employed again, in the hope that Morelos can get Rangers up the pitch and play the game in the Maribor half. It’s likely the Slovenian side will look to make a fast start, so it’s vital Rangers weather that by winning free kicks and set pieces in advanced areas.
RANGERS TEAM NEWS
From reports and training videos, it looks like Ryan Jack, Scott Arfield, and Lassana Coulibaly are all available. The suspension for Jon Flanagan means a change needs to be made in the back 4, with Halliday likely to start. Another tough shift due to playing with 10 men for most of the game on Sunday is likely to see some rotation in certain positions on the pitch. Both Sadiq and Middleton played 45 minutes of the Challenge Cup match against Falkirk for the Development Squad on Monday and will be on the bench tonight.
PREDICTED STARTING LINE UP
It may be that Kent starts in place of Murphy on the left-hand side. I suspect we’ll look to use Kent from the bench, with his pace being a real threat late on.
When you look at the recent home record of Maribor in Europe, they’re not entirely free-scoring. The 2-0 wins they had in both of the first 2 rounds represented the first time in years that they’d scored more than one in a home European match. For all their talk of how their fans intimidate teams, not many have struggled there in recent times.
Despite that, Rangers will need to be very good to come out of this one with the right result. Maribor can only approach the game one way, and have very little to lose in many respects. Against any team, that is a danger, never mind one with the experience and ability of the Slovenians.
My prediction for this match is that Rangers will weather an early storm, take the lead, and finish the match in a 1-1 draw.