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To the wire: Gerrard challenges Rangers to shock Villarreal again and maintain charge to Europa League knockout stage

 

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Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has got his man

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has got his man

PA

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has got his man

Steven Gerrard reckons Rangers' Europa League rivals originally wrote off his side as easy meat - but the Ibrox boss insists they will not think that now.

Gers can take a step closer to the competition's last 32 if they can sink Villarreal tonight.

The Yellow Submarine thought they would have it so easy when they met in their Group G opener that coach Javier Calleja made nine changes to his side for the clash at El Madrigal.

But the Light Blues held their own as they claimed an impressive away point before going on to down Rapid Vienna at home.

Performances dipped when they managed just a point from their double-header with Spartak Moscow but they head into their rematch with the La Liga big guns just a point off the leaders.

And Gerrard believes there is little chance the Spaniards will be taking his side lightly this time.

"There is certainly belief (in the team that we can make it to the last 32). When we played against Villarreal over there I thought we showed them too much respect in the first 45 minutes," he said.

"But when we actually played with confidence and belief, we created a lot of problems.

"You know, I think we've been the surprise team in this group. I don't think the opposition teams gave us much chance.

"So for us it was always about taking this group to the wire and that's what we intend to do.

"I remember back to the draw. We were certainly the underdogs when the draw was made and I think the likes of Spartak and Villarreal probably saw us as comfortable opposition.

"So it's credit to my players how well we've played in the competition so far. I think everyone's aware of our threat now, so nobody will be taking us lightly."

If Gers can get a result against Villarreal, they will head to their final game away to Rapid Vienna with a chance of securing European action past Christmas for the first time since 2011.

But defeat, combined with a win for Spartak at home to the Austrians, would mean it is all over for the Light Blues.

"Everyone knows quite obviously we can't afford to lose this game," said Gerrard.

"But if we bring our A game and max out, I think we're certainly capable of winning. Come the final whistle it's crucial we don't lose. A draw takes it to the last game and to the wire but, for us, we are going to go and try and win.

"They certainly carry a threat and they have fantastic individual players. I think their style is built around technical, individual players and they have been playing a four-diamond-two in a lot of games of late - they play with two forwards who are quick and like to run in-behind. And they like to overload the middle of the pitch and keep the ball. We have huge respect for them individually and collectively.

"We believe they are in a false position in the league, so we know they come with a big threat all over the pitch and that is a threat we have to be ready for."

Gerrard will ram home to his players that they should not fear Villarreal, especially after September's 2-2 draw in Spain.

He said: "That result certainly gave us confidence and belief. I thought we finished as the stronger team.

"And I sense the players are ready this time. This is the stage where we want to be and this is the type of opposition we want to test ourselves against.

"Villarreal are the favourites, they have got Champions League experience and a huge budget, individual players who are worth close to £20million - but this is a great test for us."

Rangers v Villarreal

Europa League

Ibrox, Tonight, 8pm

Belfast Telegraph