It would be the first time since 2007-08, the season when Walter Smith led his squad all the way to the Uefa Cup Final, that Rangers have reached the post-Christmas knockout stages in European competition in consecutive campaigns.
Last season’s impressive run to the last 16 of the Europa League, where they were beaten but far from disgraced against a fine Bayer Leverkusen side, reinforced the return to credibility on the continental stage for Rangers which Gerrard has engineered since his appointment as manager in the summer of 2018.
The Group D showdown against Standard Liege will be his 40th Europa League match at the helm of the Ibrox club and he boasts an exceptional record which is perhaps underappreciated when set against the context of his failure to land any domestic silverware so far, a box his maturing and confident team look more likely than ever to tick this season.
Gerrard has suffered just five defeats in those 39 Europa League games up to this point, two of those coming in the 4-1 aggregate loss to Leverkusen. Rangers have won 20 of those matches and kept the same number of clean sheets. In the notoriously hazardous quaifying rounds, of which Rangers had to complete four two-legged ties in each of Gerrard’s first two seasons, they remain unbeaten.
They are outstanding statistics by any measure of a Scottish club in Europe and all the more admirable for having been achieved by someone in his first managerial role. The 40-year-old former Liverpool and England captain admits the experience has been invaluable for his personal development.
“It’s done a lot for me,” said Gerrard. “I feel I am more educated, I feel I am a better coach for my experiences in the Europa League over the last couple of years.
“But it’s not about me and my own development. It’s about Rangers, the team’s progression and the evolution of this football club. It’s about getting close to where we need to get to and we all know that’s success.
“In reality, in Europe we’re not going to be the favourites to win this competition but the progression is there for all to see and that’s something we need to continue to grow.
“That comes with financial gains and putting the club in a better position. But, to answer your question, I do feel as though I have learned a lot.”
Victory for Rangers against Standard would guarantee qualification from Group D with one game to spare, easing the pressure on Gerrard’s squad for their final fixture against Lech Poznan in Poland next week. A draw would also be enough for Rangers to ensure one of the top two spots in the group if Benfica avoid defeat at home to Poznan on Thursday evening.
Rangers remain firmly in contention to top Group D, courtesy of their superior head-to-head record against top seeds Benfica after scoring more goals away from home over the course of their two thrilling draws against the Portuguese giants.
That would see Rangers secure seeded status in the draw for the last 32 of the competition but while Gerrard is hungry for further progress, he is also wary of talking up the prospects of his squad going all the way to the business end of the tournament this season.
“I suppose there’s an element of potential but I still wouldn’t describe us as favourites or anything like that,” he said. “We need to stay quiet on that and just keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“We’ve got ourselves into a position where two really strong performances to finish could see us top the group which is probably unrealistic considering we were in the third pot of seeds when the draw was made.
“You need a bit of luck along the way and remember it will get parked up until the tournament resumes with the last 32 ties in February, so let’s also see what happens in the January transfer window. There’s a lot of aspects you’d need to go in your favour to ensure progression to the latter stages. No one is even thinking about that right now. The main focus is trying to ensure qualification.”
Rangers look likely to be without influential midfielder Ryan Jack against Standard, as he recovers from injury, but Joe Aribo should be available to return after illness. Gerrard was able to rest all of what has become his first choice front three in Europe as Kemar Roofe, Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent all sat out Sunday’s 4-0 Betfred Cup win at Falkirk.
The trio are all expected to line up on Thursday night and Gerrard expressed his satisfaction at the growing influence of Roofe who scored the wonder goal from inside his own half in the 2-0 win against Standard in Belgium at the start of Group D in September.
“Kemar is in good form, he’s getting back to his physical best in terms of his overall fitness,” said Gerrard. “We know what type of player we are dealing with at that level, someone who is capable of scoring goals and helping the team.
“The important thing for me is that the team is scoring goals and the goals are coming from different areas of the pitch. We are not relying on one individual. The front three are looking fit, they’re looking strong and they are enjoying playing with each other. They are building relationships and it’s a fantastic thing to see.”