By this time last year, Rangers were out of Europe. The horrendous showing against Progres in Luxembourg meant that the return to Europe the fans craved was stalled for yet another year. This time, under Steven Gerrard, Rangers face FK Shkupi of Macedonia in the first round of Europa League qualifying, looking to avoid any potential embarrassment. Another summer of change and the ghost of Niederkorn add some nerves to the occasion.
FK Shkupi finished 4th in their league last season to qualify for Europe for the first time in their history. They won 13 games, drew 12 and lost 10 over the season to finish on 51 points. Their goal difference was plus 5, with 51 goals scored and 46 conceded.
A player to look out for is Blazhe Ilijoski. He has scored a number of goals over his career, and did well last season.
Shkupi have played a number of friendlies in the build-up to this match.
FC Drita, 2-0 win
Neftchi Baku, 2-0 defeat
Flora Tallinn, 1-1 draw
NK Celik, 3-0 defeat
Dunarea Calarasi, 3-1 defeat.
Results haven’t been great, but their manager believes the squad is ready for the game at Ibrox.
RANGERS TEAM NEWS
Rangers will be without Jordan Rossiter who is injured. Graham Dorrans hasn’t recovered fully yet, and new signings Coulibaly and Sadiq may not have been cleared in time to be added as wildcards. Ovie Ejaria was involved in full training, but has had a disrupted pre-season so far. Players like Lee Wallace, Eduardo Herrera, Harry Forrester and Fabio Cardoso won’t be involved as they aren’t part of the plans of the club right now.
The starting team will almost certainly be the same as it was in the friendly against Bury. That will mean Candeias in a central midfield role, and Windass wide right of a forward three.
Declan John may play at left-back in place of Flanagan, but any other changes seem very unlikely. The team will be looking to keep things tight at the back whilst finding ways to replicate some of the impressive attacking play from the Bury match.
It may be that my view on this is swayed by recent positivity. I am fully aware that nothing should be taken for granted. However, I believe Rangers are going to win this game 4-0. The stadium will be full, the players motivated, and I think we’ll see a very strong performance to kill the tie in this match.
How do you see the match going? Tweet us @abouttherangers with your thoughts!