Comment: Why Rangers should be expected to defy seeding in group stage

By setting high standards in the Europa League during his first two seasons as Rangers manager, Steven Gerrard has also raised expectations.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard leads his squad in a training session at Ibrox on Wednesday morning before their departure to Belgium for the Europa League Group D opener against Standard Liege on Thursday. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard leads his squad in a training session at Ibrox on Wednesday morning before their departure to Belgium for the Europa League Group D opener against Standard Liege on Thursday. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

As his team prepare to begin their third consecutive group stage campaign in the tournament against Standard Liege in Belgium on Thursday evening, they will do so in the belief and acceptance that anything less than progressing to the knockout rounds for a second year in a row will be regarded as failure.

While Rangers were among the third pot of seeds for the draw at the start of this month, they are rated second favourites by the bookmakers to win Group D.

That is a status certainly influenced by the impressive results achieved by Gerrard’s squad in the previous two years. After finishing third behind Villarreal and Rapid Vienna in 2018-19, they secured the runners-up spot behind Porto last season and went on to reach the last 16.

Their opener at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne on Thursday provides an opportunity to continue their excellent away form in the Europa League under Gerrard and take an early advantage against a Liege side who were second seeds in the draw.

Even a point would be a positive outcome for Rangers, one they could build on at Ibrox next week when bottom seeds Lech Poznan are the visitors. The Polish side merit respect, having come through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage, but have made an indifferent start to their domestic campaign with just two wins from their first six games.

The most keenly anticipated fixtures in the group will be the back-to-back clashes with top seeds and Group D favourites Benfica which are scheduled for Lisbon on November 5 and Ibrox three weeks later.

The Portuguese giants spent over £80 million in the summer, albeit the bulk of it funded by their sale of Ruben Dias to Manchester City, and boast a talented squad which now includes the experienced former Premier League defensive duo of Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi.

They suffered a disappointing Champions League exit against PAOK in Greece in a third qualifying round tie but have made a formidable start to their domestic season. They deserve to be favourites but Rangers can run them close and join them in the last 32.

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