Rangers are flying high in the Premiership, but their next opponents in the Europa League, Slavia Prague, are set to do just as well…
It’s not hard to be a Rangers fan at the minute, you must admit. Strolling along to a record 55th League title with such nonchalance that all the talk and focus is firmly on events on Europa League – a testament to how good we’ve been and how objectively, laughably, bad our neighbours in green came out in comparison.
We’ve all enjoyed the news this week of Celtic boss Neil Lennon finally jumping, like a rat fleeing the sinking ship. Oh sure, Hoops fans haven’t, while perhaps they may have wanted old Lurgan Flopp gone months ago, now it only seems like he’s leaving to avoid giving the Gers a guard of honour at Celtic Park, rather than an admission of failure.
Indeed, it’s been smooth sailing all year, especially at home. Unbeaten domestically, never really in any danger of even being in a title race never mind losing to one. Goals coming from literally every position on the park, with the League’s top scorer being our very own skipper and centre-back. A whopping goal difference of 64, propped up by the remarkable single digit goals conceded figure. Has there been another club, even in all of Europe, as prolific this year as the light blues?
In fact, there is one. Slavia Prague, our Europa League last 16 opponents. The red and whites moved some 11 points clear at the summit of the Czech First League with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over rivals Slovacko last night. While this may not have been the finest of victories, and I can’t imagine many games in the Czech league really fit that criteria, it does ensure they maintain their 100% unbeaten record in the season until now.
Slavia are, without a doubt, the best team in their League – the Rangers of the Czech Republic if you will. Out of the last 5 seasons they’ve won the title 4 times, including the last three years on the trot, and let’s face it, 11 points is a pretty decent gap when you’re a team that doesn’t seem to be capable of losing even when playing poorly and two goals down.
They’ve also seen decent success in European competitions too, reflected by the fact their UEFA club coefficient sits at 39, compared to Rangers at 53. They’ve reached this stage of the Europa League as recently as two seasons ago and I’m pretty sure they’d have done the same, or better, last season too but competed back then in Champions League instead. Fair trade.
Just like the Gers, Slavia don’t concede many goals, shipping just 12 before last night’s contest, and also have the ability to score from just about anywhere on the park. More worryingly, however, for Steven Gerrard and the lads is the fact that Slavia have already killed a number of giants far taller than the light blues on the way to this round – the latest being Leicester City only last week.
You may think the club sitting third in the Premier League probably fielder a weaker side in the contest, but you’d be wrong. They were all there, Kasper Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy, Johnny Evans, Mark Albrighton, Youri Tielemans, the lot. Absolutely Brenda, sorry Brendan, Rodgers best side and they were put to the sword to the tune of 0-2 at the King Power Stadium.
The players were later shown celebrating having drawn Rangers, and why wouldn’t they? Absolutely, despite the similarities, the red and whites will be the favorites here. I have no doubt Gerrard will be keeping expectations very grounded and centred around this idea. Though we go to any park in Scotland and be expected to win, we’ll go Prague on March 11th and it’s a far, far less certain thing.
Make no mistake, the Gers have flown the flag single-handedly for Scotland in the competition this year, after Celtic’s disastrous double Brexit. The lads have done remarkably well in absolutely every way, beyond every wildest imagination. There’s no room for complacency here however, we’re very much playing with the big boys and the team that can trounce Leicester can take on any club in the game these days, it’s that simple.
It’s party time for Rangers and Bears should savour every minute, but the competition is heating up and there remains an opportunity to make this already historic season into our greatest ever. Slavia Prague are more than a match for our wee club, but you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here’s hoping we get a penalty or two just to wind the neighbours a bit while we’re at it.