Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Manchester United v Rangers: Davis ready to mix it with the big boys

Steven Davis

"It sounds good,” says Steven Davis in response to the prospect of him skipping past Jonny Evans and smashing in the winner at Old Trafford tonight.

The Rangers favourite will confront his Northern Ireland international team-mate tonight, knowing in the back of his mind that he has unfinished business in the Premier League.

Davis was the brightest star at Ibrox last season, winning the Player of the Player prize, but like one of his killer passes, the bright lights of England’s top flight are never far from his vision.

As he prepares to face Manchester United in a Champions League Group C encounter, the 25-year-old will allow his mind to drift back to previous battles while donning the colours of Aston Villa and Fulham.

Since leaving London for Glasgow in 2008 for £3million Davis has played the best football of his career, but he knows there is still room for improvement and a return to the Premier League could see him really hit the big time.

A £5million summer switch to Everton fell through after the Toffees were unable to sell Steven Pienaar or Mikel Arteta but there is every chance the Cullybackey man will be packing his bags and leaving Ibrox next summer — just like his manager, Walter Smith.

But despite his heroics last season for the SPL champions, the midfielder has been unhappy with his current form and tonight’s game at the Theatre of Dreams is the ideal opportunity to offer a timely reminder of his undoubted class at the highest level.

“I was really hoping we would draw an English team in the Champions League and now we can look forward to a special occasion,” said Davis.

“I have played in the Premier League before and there is no bigger test than playing at Old Trafford where I have never won before. It is an opportunity for me to show than I can play against a team of United’s calibre and impress but it is also an opportunity for Rangers to banish bad European memories.

“We had a very disappointing European campaign last season when we let ourselves down and we have to give a better account of ourselves even though it is a tough draw.

“This is why you play football — there are great teams in our Champions league group and any player would want to play against these teams and at places like Old Trafford.”

Rangers, who will also face Valencia and Turkish side Bursaspor in Group C, failed to win any of their six games in the competition last season and have not won any of their last 10 Champions League games, losing seven times.

They have also lost on four of their last five visits to England, the exception being a 2-1 European Cup win over Leeds in 1992-93.

Manchester United may be looking for their 150th win in European football in their 279th game but Rangers will not be lambs to the slaughter.

Davis played his part in a surprise result in Slovenia as Northern Ireland got their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign off to a sensational start and he hopes that result can breathe fresh life into his season — at club and international level.

“Things went well for me last season but I cannot say the same thing now,” he added.

“I’ve been disappointed with my form and although I am my own harshest critic of course I could do much more for Rangers and Northern Ireland.

“The Northern Ireland players showed in Slovenia what they can achieve through hard work and now I want to contribute more for Rangers.

“You just hope you can improve every season but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

“Hopefully it will come the more games I play. I want to progress as a player every season I play and that's what my focus is on this campaign.

“I couldn’t have asked for more last season and the players love playing for Walter Smith. Everyone wants to send him off on a high this season.

“It was nice to win the Player of the Year award but winning things as a team is the most important thing. We've added a few players in the summer which has given us a lift at Rangers and now hopefully we can do well in Europe.”

Old Trafford key battles

Wayne Rooney v David Weir

The former Everton team-mates will go head-to-head in what will be the tastiest battle of all. Rooney will be busting a gut to try and make headlines for himself on the back pages rather than the front, but he won’t get much change out of seasoned professional Weir. The 40-year-old may not have the legs but, in mind, he could frustrate Rooney.

Darren Fletcher v Steve Davis

Rangers will need all of Davis’ creative spark to unlock the defensive door at Old Trafford but he won’t be given a minute’s peace by busy Fletcher. The United midfielder is under-rated as his workrate is phenomenal and he can pop up with the odd important goal, however, Cullybackey-man Davis has shown before he can mix it with the best.

Nemanja Vidic v Kenny Miller

A lot will depend on how Rangers approach the game. If they stay on the deck and use Miller’s pace then the in-form forward could have a good night at Old Trafford. However with, as is likely, the Gers under the cosh, the temptation is always there to lump it forward to ease the pressure and that is merely playing into Vidic’s hands.

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