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Steven Gerrard: Europa League getting stronger but Rangers can reach knockouts

Rangers v St Johnstone – Scottish Premiership – Ibrox Stadium
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Steven Gerrard reckons the Europa League is stronger than ever – but he would still be disappointed if Rangers did not repeat last year’s feat and battle their way to the knockout rounds.

The Light Blues have been drawn alongside Benfica, Standard Liege and Lech Poznan after Gerrard’s men pulled off an impressive win over Galatasaray to ensure Ibrox would host group-stage action for the third year running.

Last term Gers went all the way to the last 16 – and Gerrard fully expects to see his team do it all again and escape Group D.

The Rangers boss said: “The challenge is to get out of the group, of course it is. No-one will be shouting from the rooftops because we have to respect the opposition that are in the group.

“They’re good teams in their own right. But we’ll take each game as it comes, give it everything we have got and try and do our best to finish as high as we can in the group.

“I’d be disappointed if we don’t get out of the group because the players have shown over the last couple of years in Europe that we are a tough nut to crack and we have shown amazing quality going forward.

“We’ll be a good contest for anyone in the group, home or away, and I am really looking forward to the challenge.”

Benfica finished last season’s Primeira Liga wedged in between champions Porto and third-placed Braga – two sides who both failed to topple the Ibrox men when they met Gers last season.

Standard Liege are the only team Rangers have previously faced, losing out 4-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of the 1962 European Cup.

The Belgians were sitting fifth in the Jupiler Pro League, 21 points behind leaders Club Brugge, when their campaign was called after 29 games back in April because of the coronavirus crisis.

Poznan– skippered by former Celtic defender Thomas Rogne – ended up runners-up in Poland three points behind Ekstraklasa champions Legia Warsaw, another side who were also edged out by Gerrard’s men during qualifying last season.

The Ibrox manager added: “I think the Europa League as a whole seems to be getting stronger each year. Teams are getting better and improving.

“I was really impressed with some of the names in the draw. All the groups look like tough challenges across the board.

“It’s nice for us that we get to play Benfica and Lech Poznan for the first time.

“It’s a tough group but we’ll approach each game as we do and give it our best shot. But it will be tough to get out of it because there are three other good teams in there.”

Gers are set to bank a sum of up to £10million for reaching the group stages but Gerrard has dismissed rumours he could make a move for Everton midfielder Mo Besic.

The Ibrox boss is keen to add another recruit to his engine room before Monday’s transfer deadline but said: “Listen, I’m not going to be mentioning any names here today. Someone has just asked me is Mo Besic up in Glasgow having a medical with Rangers. That would be news to me if he was.

“Nothing has changed in terms of what we’re trying to do in the last few days of the window.

“The board, myself and (sporting director) Ross Wilson are still trying to add the person in the position we feel we need before the window shuts.

“But we’ll have to see how the next three days pan out in terms of ins and outs. It’s difficult to control because you never know what’s going to land on your desk and whether you are able to get someone over the line when you are trying to make it happen.

“There certainly won’t be (multiple) additions. I think if we do well in the next couple of days there might be an addition.”