Rangers boss Steven Gerrard says Euro foes Leverkusen are among favourites for trophy

Steven Gerrard has admitted his Rangers side could hardly have been handed a sterner test in the Europa League last 16 after being paired with Bayer Leverkusen in the draw in Nyon.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard supervises training. Photo Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard supervises training. Photo Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

The German club will visit Ibrox on 12 March, with the return match in North Rhine-Westphalia a week later. The Rangers manager believes his men have rewarded for their stellar efforts in beating Braga in Portugal this week by being matched up with potential winners of the competition.

Leverkusen are fifth in the Bundesliga, six points behind leaders Bayern Munich. However, it is their ruthless disposal of a Porto side who finished ahead of Rangers in the group stage of the competition that has alerted Gerrard to the exacting assignments awaiting his team next month.

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“I think they are one of the favourites because of the way they’ve just gone and dealt with Porto,” said the 39-year-old of Leverkusen’s 5-2 aggregate success over Rangers’ recent adversaries.

The victory was secured with a 3-1 away win for the German club on Thursday.

“They deserve to be one of the favourites. It’s exciting, but it’s also going to be very tough. It’s one of the toughest ties we could have got.”

Leverkusen won’t be unfamiliar foes to Gerrard, or Rangers. The former Liverpool captain played in both legs of the Anfield club’s 6-2 aggregate win over the Germans in the last 16 of the Champions League stage en route to their 2005 triumph in the competition.

Three years earlier, he was in the midfield as Leverkusen overcame Liverpool 4-3 on aggregate at the quarter-final stage of club football’s blue riband tournament.

The Ibrox side were victors over the German side on the only previous occasion the two sides have met – in the second round of the Uefa Cup in late 1998. Dick Advocaat’s men secured a 2-1 win at the BayArena before drawing 1-1 in the return leg at Ibrox.

“I know the stadium, having played there before, and it’s a fantastic venue,” said Gerrard. “It’s really close to the pitch and it’s an exciting place to go and play football. The atmosphere is electric there, it’s not a huge stadium, if I’m guessing it’s around 30,000.

“But the fans are all around the ground, very close to the pitch and it will be a good challenge for the players. My own experience from playing against German teams and German players is that it was always very tough. They are big, strong physical athletes. Tactically they are very astute.”

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Leverkusen are managed by Peter Bosz, the former Feyenoord and Netherlands midfielder, who was appointed in December 2018 and guided them to fourth place in the Bundesliga last season.

That secured a place in this season’s Champions League and they finished third in a tough group behind Juventus and Atletico Madrid but ahead of Lokomotiv Moscow, dropping into the Europa League as a result.

On a previous visit to Glasgow they lost 2-1 to Real Madrid in the 2002 Champions League final at Hampden during a season in which they also finished runners-up in the German league and cup. They did taste European success in 1988, beating Espanyol in the Uefa Cup final.