Rangers boss Steven Gerrard highlights former Celtic target as Willem II’s dangerman in Europe
A Greek international striker who has been linked with Celtic could present the biggest obstacle to Rangers’ hopes of further progress in the Europa League when they travel to the Netherlands next week.
Vangelis Pavlidis, a powerful 21-year-old centre forward, has been picked out as the Willem II dangerman by Rangers manager Steven Gerrard ahead of the third qualifying round tie in Tilburg on Thursday evening.
Celtic were credited with an interest in Pavlidis in January this year before the player turned his loan spell at Willem II into a permanent move from German club Bochum.
He scored twice as Willem II beat Progres Niederkorn 5-0 in Luxembourg last Wednesday to set up the showdown with Rangers and Gerrard has no doubts about the size of the task now facing his players after they cruised past Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar by the same scoreline.
“Willem II are a good team and we know the level is going to increase dramatically from the previous round, with all due respect,” he said.
“They have exciting attacking players and play with a striker who is quite physical in Pavlidis and who is also a goalscorer. He’s a good player. So we know the level of competition is going to get tougher, but that’s always been the case in the Europa League for us in the previous two seasons.
“We expect that against Willem II but it’s a game we are looking forward to. Hopefully we can get through our league game at Hibs on Sunday with a win and then be in a fantastic place going into the match in Tilburg.”
Rangers have compiled an impressive record on the road in Europe since Gerrard took charge, having lost just four of their 17 games under his guidance so far – against Spartak Moscow, Rapid Vienna, Young Boys and Bayer Leverkusen.
But there is a different dynamic on their travels this season, both in terms of the qualifying ties being single-leg affairs and with no supporters inside stadiums to provide a partisan atmosphere.
It’s a scenario Gerrard and his players are also adapting to on the domestic front at venues such as Easter Road today where they would normally face a hostile reception from the home fans.
“I wouldn’t say it makes it easier,” he said. “We beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie on the first day of the season but it was a tough game even though we played very well and we had to stick together to get over the line.
“It was different going there without the atmosphere and the intensity that comes from the terraces. Maybe that is a slight advantage for the away team.
“But I think the actual game doesn’t become any easier. You’re still playing against good players and facing good coaches. It is unique in that there isn’t that intensity. I’m sure certain individuals will benefit from that environment being a little bit more calm.
“In terms of getting messages on to the players, from an attacking and defensive point of view, it’s a lot easier for managers and coaches.
“When Ibrox is rocking or you’re in an atmosphere where it’s very noisy, that can be difficult at times.
“What must help me when the fans do get back is having leaders on the pitch. I think you can quite clearly hear either of our goalies, Allan McGregor or Jon McLaughlin, and players like Connor Goldson, James Tavernier and Steven Davis are getting more vocal.
“The work on the training pitch gives them the game plan but they’re the players I need to be the managers out there when the game starts, to pull people into the right place, making sure distances are right and people are focused for the full 90 minutes.
“I have a lot of confidence in the squad, that we have the right quality. Of course, I’ve gone on record saying I would like to add to that. The next two weeks are going to get a lot tougher, the challenges are coming thick and fast, so I need my players to be big, to stand up and be bold and show the character that I believe they have to get through the next two weeks.”
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