Rangers can shake off the disappointment of dropping points to Hibs by coming out strong against Willem II in the Europa League tomorrow.
Everyone over the weekend yet? Good, good. Pubs being able to open again definitely helps a lot, or so I’m told. Another thing that helps you get over a sketchy result is to get out on the park and give a team a good, old-fashioned thrashing. Gets the demon off the back for the players, lets the fans start wearing their shirts in public again, win-win.
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Rangers could, and should, have done better against Hibs at the weekend, as we’ve discussed already. Obviously a draw at Easter Road, when the home side are also unbeaten in the League, isn’t a bad result on the face of things, but that doesn’t really tell the full story. Chances went begging at the front and sloppy defensive mistakes, symbolic of a sudden and unexpected loss of confidence, made for a seriously disappointing way to drop precious points.
Nonetheless, Rangers have the opportunity to almost instantly bounce back by coming out strong in tomorrow’s Europa League tie at Willem II.
If you’re thinking what I first thought, when the draw came out, it’s “another team I’ve never heard of, this should be easy” – but, with Rangers, is it ever so? Willem aren’t quite Lincoln Red Imps, or Gibraltar league, level of underdog in this match-up. They are an Erdedivise, the top League in the Netherlands who have played in the League for 8 consecutive years after spending just one lone season in the tier below.
It’s hard to gauge a team’s strengths in Coronavirus timeline, but ostensibly last season finishing 5th and in the final of the KNVB Cup last season is quite an achievement. The Cup grants access to the Europa League to the winner, but since Willem II were bested by Ajax, who would win the Erdedivise and thus qualify for the Champions League, the slot fell to Willem as runners up.
Ok, so, they lost 4-0 in the final, but that was against the pre-stripped for parts Ajax who still had Mathhijs de Light, Frenkie de Jong, Hakim Ziyech and Kasper Dolberg. As for Willem II themselves, few players on their squad I can name and you’d know, but they’ve funnelled a lot of Dutch talent in the past including Marc Overmars, Jaap Stam and, of course, Virgil van Dijk.
In any case, it would be remiss for Rangers to take their opponents lightly. The Erdedivise is arguably a bigger league than the Scottish Premiership. Heck, at least they have their head’s screwed on straight, ending the COVID-19 season early without giving away any free, and undeserved, trophies. It’s clear, at least, they won’t be there to make up numbers.
That said, recent reports do give the Light Blues a bit of comfort. According to the Glasgow Times, Willem II will be without central defender Freek Heerkens, disappointing news for anyone excited to hear the British commentary announce his name, alongside right back Leeroy Owusu, midielder Rick Zuijderwijk and strikers Elton Kabangu and Otschi Wriedt. Five injuries, all first team players. I’ll take it.
Steven Gerrard must not let the Gers get overconfident, regardless. Those brought in will be just as up for it and, as we’ve discussed before, this is a single round elimination match in which anything can happen. We may not be beaten domestically, but we’ve shown we are perfectly capable of having a bad day at the office, let’s not make it two in a row. Time to move on and get back to winning.