Beware the underdogs’ bite, says Gerrard
Steven Gerrard says there is a quiet belief within the Rangers dressing-room ahead of facing Villareal (pic: SNS Group)
Having surpassed expectations to reach the group stages of the Europa League, further progress will be a major bonus for Steven Gerrard’s Rangers team.
The Light Blues defied the odds to win through four qualifying rounds and take to the field at the Estadio Ceramica to face Villareal tonight as outsiders in a group which also includes Spartak Moscow and Rapid Vienna.
Far from being fazed by the challenge ahead, it’s a position Gerrard and his men are relishing after ending an eight-year wait to compete in the group phase of a European competition.
“We are the underdogs in the group in terms of people’s opinions on the outside, but inside the dressing room, we have a quiet confidence about us and a belief that we can cause an upset, a shock and try to get out of the group,” said the Ibrox boss, who handed captain James Tavernier a new four-year contract this week.
“I will always say the same thing, it is important to face what is in front of you, and that is Villarreal right now. But, of course, we are not here to make the numbers up. We are here to challenge the group and see where we end up.
“I don’t think this game highlights how far I’ve taken the group – it highlights how far they have come themselves, how much they have grown and how much hard work they have put in to deserve this stage.
“But we all believe it is where this club should be – we are at a huge football club which has had difficult times. I don’t think many gave us a chance of getting to this stage.
“We are in a good place, and if teams want to underestimate us or write us off, then that’s fine. What is important to me is the players and what is happening in the dressing room.
“I can see a togetherness growing, and I can see a team growing. I am happy where we are at this stage.”
Kyle Lafferty will lead the line for the visitors tomorrow in the absence of the suspended Alfredo Morelos, sent off in the second leg of the play-off against Ufa.
Gerrard will adapt his tactics accordingly against the team which has proved itself something of an expert in the Europa League having reached the semi-finals three times, and admits he is prepared to win ugly.
“What is important when you are a manager, you have to play to your strengths,” he said.
“You have to look at the players you have in the dressing room and find out your strengths and your weaknesses.
“Obviously, we are very new and a very young team together. We have been working on a style, and the style is not to play long.
“We want to try and play football as much as possible, but at the same time, if we can get an advantage with a long ball, we will use it.
“It’s not about me and everything looking great on the eye – it is about winning. So I am prepared to do what it takes to win.”
As well as Morelos, Jon Flanagan is also suspended while Ryan Jack, Ovie Ejaria and Gareth McAulay are all unavailable.
Brendan Rodgers is preparing to take on familiar foes in the shape of Rosenborg (pic: SNS Group)
CELTS AWAIT TOUGH ROSENBORG TEST
Celtic will need to have their shooting boots on when they welcome Rosenborg to Glasgow in their Europa League Group B encounter.
Brendan Rodgers’ men go into this evening’s match on the back of a 0-0 stalemate against St Mirren, with the Hoops yet to discover their best form this season.
The home side have knocked their opponents out of the Champions League qualifiers twice in three years so will go into the match confident of another good result.
Rosenborg, however, are unbeaten in 11 matches since their defeat to Celtic and will fancy their chances of gaining some sort of revenge.
“The dynamics are slightly different in terms of playing Rosenborg,” said Rodgers.
“Previously, it has been knockout and maybe the first legs have been a little bit cagey, but the difficulty of the game is still there.
“Their system’s very clear, it’s very defined. They’ve got good balance in their team, clear identity, very structured, but also they’ve got very good individual players.”
Celtic missed out on the group stages of the Champions League for a third successive season after falling to AEK Athens.
Rodgers, however, insisted there is much to look forward to in the second-tier competition, with Salzburg and Leipzig making up Group B.
“There is always excitement going into the European competitions and this is no different,” Rodgers added.
“It is a real good group we are in.”
Jack Hendry returns to the squad with Kristoffer Ajer doubtful with a virus and Jozo Simunivic out with a knee injury.