It may feel as though Rangers are simply tying up loose ends when they complete their Europa League last-16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen. Steven Gerrard, though, refuses to see their attempt to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit in the Bayer Arena on 6 August as a mere inconvenience.
Uefa’s decision to bring last season’s competition to a conclusion in August follows the footballing hiatus created by the coronavirus pandemic shutdown in mid-March. It means that the competition will be completed from the quarter-final stage with a one-legged knockout tournament set to be held in Cologne, Duisburg, Dusseldorf from 10-21 August.
The last-16 first-leg reverse was the first time Rangers had suffered a home European defeat in 18 games. A Kai Havertz penalty and an effort from Charles Aranguiz put Leverkusen 2-0 in front. George Edmundson headed home to reduce the deficit but the visitors grabbed another crucial away goal thanks to a delicate Leon Bailey lob.
Few expect Rangers to achieve the two-goal victory margin away to Leverkusen that would result in an extended stay in Germany. Gerrard isn’t giving up on his team pulling off a minor miracle.
“It’s strange,” he said. “I haven’t seen or heard about it before but one thing is for sure, we’re not going to give up on it. That’s the reason why I am so keen to get back to full contact training, to give ourselves the best chance. We need minimum four or five weeks to be ready for serious games, especially at that level, so the quicker we can get the rules relaxed and get back to full contact training it will give us the best chance to be fully prepared and we will go into the Leverkusen game and do our best to try to turn it round.
“It will be a big challenge. We’ve made the job more difficult than we would have liked by conceding the third goal here but who knows what shape Leverkusen are going to be in? They are coming to the end of the season and probably have some down time and you don’t know what situation or level they are going to be at by the time the game comes round. That’s probably the strangeness for both clubs. Ideally, the game should be done and dusted and already dealt with.”
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