Steven Gerrard faces pivotal week as Rangers battle on two fronts

For Steven Gerrard, this is unquestionably the most ?significant week yet of his fledgling managerial career. Tasked with restoring Rangers both as a credible presence in Europe and a title-winning side at home when he was recruited by the Ibrox club ?14 months ago, Gerrard is facing back-to-back home fixtures over the next four days which will shine a light on his ability to meet those twin demands.

Steven Gerrard faces the media ahead of the second leg of the Europa League play-off tie against Legia Warsaw. Picture: Ross MacDonald /SNS

Overcoming Legia Warsaw in the second leg of the Europa League play-off tie on Thursday night would secure both the prestige and much-needed financial boost of groupstage football for a second successive year for Rangers. If 
Gerrard could follow that up with a Premiership victory over Celtic on Sunday, their prospects of dethroning the eight-in-a-row champions would look more plausible than at any stage since their meltdown in 2012.

Gerrard accepts he cannot prioritise one challenge over another. Rangers chairman Dave King has left him in no doubt how crucial the Europa League group stage, which increased the club’s revenue by 82 per cent last year, is to its continued rebuilding.

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Which is why Gerrard is at pains to stress that neither his players nor the club’s supporters can afford to allow their focus to drift prematurely to Sunday’s titanic domestic tussle with their ancient rivals.

“Right now, it would be very stupid and naive for anyone to have any attention on that game until the final whistle on Thursday night,” said Gerrard.

“I suppose it is [a psychologically important week] but it’s more important from the point of view for everyone’s opinions looking in on the games, rather than ours.

“‘Whatever happens in the next two fixtures, we will continue to push and fight all the way. You have to realise we are still in August and only three games into the season in the league.

“So from an Old Firm point of view, whatever happens in that fixture, there will still be tons and tons of football to play. I’ve been in the chairman’s company enough times and he’s gone on record more than once to state how important European football is for Rangers as a whole.

“We are all aware of that pressure and that’s going to be the same at Rangers for many, many years.

“That’s always been the case, I knew that was going to be there when I signed up for it. These are the type of weeks that I wanted to be involved in from a personal point of view.”

Rangers’ Europa League hopes are delicately balanced after the 0-0 draw against Legia in the first leg in Warsaw last Thursday. It’s a scoreline which carries obvious danger if the Polish side can plunder an away goal or more at 

“In an ideal situation away from home in Europe you’re always looking to get that away goal,” admitted Gerrard, who has on-loan Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo available for selection after he missed Sunday’s league win at St Mirren through injury.

“But getting a clean sheet in Warsaw was a big positive for us, especially in that atmosphere. We were playing against a good team but it is what it is and the scoreline is what it is.

“We had one fantastic chance on the night and a couple of other decent half-chances but we have no complaints in terms of the overall scoreline so we deal with what it is.

“We’ll go into the game really looking forward to the challenge, really up for it and believing we can get it done. If we can’t, that’s the way it is, we need to roll on and not feel 
sorry for ourselves. Our best performance gets it done, that’s my mentality.

“It’s going to take the right balance of having that fire and having that mindset of going out and performing in a really positive way and taking the game to Legia.

“But also at the same time we need to respect the 
opposition and have the right balance behind the ball. This could be a game which is decided by the small details. A mistake on either side, someone not following a runner, someone 
giving a set piece away or someone providing a bit of magic.

“I don’t envisage someone running away with a scoreline, I think it’s going to be a tight, tight affair.

“When my squad have been asked the big questions, then more often than not it has found a way. It’s stood up to the challenge, so I have belief and confidence that the boys can get it done.

“I look at teams which have come to Ibrox over the last 12 months, Spartak Moscow, Rapid Vienna, Villarreal and Celtic on a couple of occasions. We’ve had some really big stern tests at Ibrox but when it’s rocking and it’s bouncing and we find our level, then we are a good team.

“All I ask of my players is to go and find a performance that’s good enough as I know they are capable.

“If someone had told us in pre-season that in the eighth game of a European qualifying run you’re going to have the chance at home to make it to the group stage, then I’d probably have signed up for that.”