Rangers must be wary of Midtjylland’s abilities, warns ex-Ibrox star Peter Lovenkrands

Peter Lovenkrands knows what some people are saying about Rangers’ latest European opponents on Thursday night. “They are probably looking at it and going, ‘Ah, but it’s only a Danish team’,” he stated yesterday.

Rangers Nathan Young-Coombes, left, and coach Peter Lovenkrands where both on hand to help launch their Lotto campaign for the Rangers Youth Development Company.
Rangers Nathan Young-Coombes, left, and coach Peter Lovenkrands where both on hand to help launch their Lotto campaign for the Rangers Youth Development Company.

If so, they are making a crucial mistake. Fortunately for Rangers’ chances of progressing to the Europa League play-off round, those taking this view do not work at the club’s Hummel Academy. Analysts are already well along the way to compiling a detailed dossier for Steven Gerrard’s benefit on FC Midtjylland, whose recent exploits mean they are regarded as one of the top three sides in Denmark, alongside FC Copenhagen and Brondby.

“I will be surprised if I can tell them something they do not know,” added Lovenkrands.

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The club were only founded in 1999 – just a year before Lovenkrands started his British football adventure by joining Rangers from Danish side AB. The winger remained at Ibrox for six years before a stint in German football was followed by spells at Newcastle and Birmingham City. He now finds himself back at Ibrox in the role of reserve team coach at the club’s Academy, which means Gerrard, inset far right, has a potentially useful ally ahead of Thursday’s first leg at the MCH Arena in Herning.

As Lovenkrands suggested, Rangers will be well briefed in any case. They can ill afford to be under prepared. Lovenkrands agrees with those better-informed pundits who regard this as the greatest challenge of those European qualifying ties under Gerrard to date. He ranks Midtjylland above Russian side Ufa, who Rangers defeated to reach the group stage last season.

“This is a team that’s not been finishing in the top just once or twice, it’s been consistently doing so in the last Danish league for the last five to six years and won the league two years ago against FC Copenhagen, who have been a dominant side,” explained Lovenkrands. “It’s a really good team, a good squad. They always build strongly. They lost their manager last year but the assistant coach took over and it’s the same philosophy that there’s been for a long time.”

Kenneth Andersen has been promoted to manager following the departure of Jess Thorup, who led Midtjylland to the Superliga title. Brian Priske, Lovenkrands’ former international teammate, is now assistant to Andersen.

“I played with him for the national team and the under-21s, so I have known him for years,” said Lovenkrands of Riske, a former defender. “I actually met him the other day when I was on my Pro-Licence. We were in Italy for the Under-21 championships and had a good chat.

“But we did not know of course that this was going to happen, so I had a wee text from him the other day, it’s quite funny. But I am looking forward to seeing him, especially when they come over here and I can have a chat with him.”

Lovenkrands warned Rangers to be on guard for the Danish side’s speedy wingers, specifically Australian international Awer Mabil, pictured left, on the right, while he noted the goalkeeper, Jesper Hansen, has a tendency to want to play the ball out from the back. “I think that is something Rangers could exploit, to be fair,” he added. Erik Sviatkchenko, meanwhile, has settled back in at his old side having rejoined from Celtic, although he was sent off in the weekend win over Aalborg.

“They are not a team known for sitting back,” added Lovenkrands. “Because they have dominated the Danish league for so long with Copenhagen, they want to go and play and normally they will be the ones dominating games. I will be surprised if they come with a tactic other teams have done against Rangers of sitting back.

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“I think they will go for it.”

This could of course be good news for Rangers, who have found the going tough against teams who set out to suffocate play, as Progres Niederkorn tried to do in the last round. Midtjylland have already played four league games in this campaign, winning them all.

“Their location in Denmark helps them too,” added Lovenkrands. “Denmark is three islands and they are situated on the biggest island. They are taking all the talent from that big area while FC Copenhagen and Brondby take talent from other areas.

“They are a really strong club who are building themselves up to being a big, big club. It’s going to be really tough for Rangers. I do hope and think Rangers are going to go through, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Midtjylland might well view facing the Ibrox side as an opportunity to progress to the play-off round, where either Legia Warsaw or Greek side Atromitos will lie in wait. Sviatchenko is not the only one who will relish a trip to a full-to-capacity Ibrox for next week’s second leg. “They will be excited, I would assume,” said Lovenkrands. “Especially coming to Ibrox, they will not be used to that type of atmosphere. Yes, games against Copenhagen and Brondby have similar atmospheres in Denmark, but take those games away they do not have anything like that.

“So it will be a big game for them as well, just as much as it will be for us. But I am assuming they (Midtjylland) will be fine and will be able to cope with these things. They have international players in their squad, so they have players who are capable and who have been in that situation before.”

l Peter Lovenkrands was speaking at an event to promote a new 
Rangers Lotto campaign for the Rangers Youth Development Company. Since 2002, RYDC profits have contributed almost £8m to Rangers’ youth programme.