As the Europa League reaches the play off stage, the competition is swamped by teams who were unsuccessful in the third qualifying round stage of the Champions League, and Maribor and Rangers are both examples of teams who have parachuted in. Maribor were defeated 3-2 on aggregate by Maccaba Haifa and Rangers were knocked out by Malmo, 2-1.
Looking at the UEFA team rankings, Rangers are going into this as favourites at 42nd, with Maribor down at 226th, but we all know that results do not always follow the rankings, which is perfectly highlighted by 284th placed Malmo knocking out Rangers in the previous qualifying round of the Champions League.
For me, Rangers main area for concern is the high number of injuries they currently have in defensive positions.
Steven Whittaker has this week received a three match ban for his petulant sending off in the second leg against Malmo – which Rangers are appealing – although the broken toe he suffered earlier in that match would have ruled him out of this leg anyway.
Sasa Papac is another who is set to miss out after coming back from an attempted return to the Israel squad with suspected Pneumonia. Rangers were quick to state that it wasn’t Pneumonia, but interestingly they refrained from stating what was actually wrong with the defender.
Kyle Bartley did start on Saturday against Inverness, but he was replaced by Ross Perry after suffering a groin strain, and will probably miss out as well.
Davie Weir was taken off in the first leg against Malmo with a hamstring injury, although he was close to making a return against Inverness on Saturday, so there is a chance he could be included.
It’s difficult to predict how Rangers will line up with so many injuries, but I can see them starting with the same eleven that started against Inverness, with Perry coming in for Bartley, Lee McCulloch coming in for Jamie Ness and Naismith moving back to make a midfield five.
Maribor go into this match sitting at the top of the Slovenian PrvaLiga after five matches, with a single draw, followed by four consecutive wins.
Maribor captain, Marcos Tavares, is confident that his team can defeat Rangers as he told the Daily Record: “We play with a lot of pride and that always generates problems for our opponents. I believe Rangers could be about to suffer in another European qualifier. If they think this match will be easy they are totally mistaken. Malmo inflicted a blow to Scottish football and that’s what we also have to do. If they can defeat Rangers then we can do it as well.”
Against Malmo, UEFA had imposed an away fan ban on Rangers, but with that lifted for this tie, Rangers must have a chance, at the very least, to keep the tie alive for the return leg at Ibrox on Thursday 25th August.
NK Maribor vs Rangers 1st leg, Thursday 18th August, Kick off 19:45, live on Premier Sports