Why Rangers will 'put foot to floor' against Benfica as incentive spelled out

Steven Gerrard and his players have plenty of wriggle room left in their bid to qualify from Group D of the Europa League.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is hopeful his players can make Thursday's visit of Benfica to Ibrox the pivotal night in their bid to qualify from Group D of the Europa League. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is hopeful his players can make Thursday's visit of Benfica to Ibrox the pivotal night in their bid to qualify from Group D of the Europa League. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

But there is a very good reason why the Rangers manager would love to get the job done with two games to spare when they face top seeds Benfica at Ibrox on Thursday night.

A Rangers’ victory, coupled with a Standard Liege win over Lech Poznan in Belgium, would guarantee a top two finish in the group and a place in the last 32 of the competition for Gerrard’s squad.

Rangers: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Rangers: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Just as valuable for Gerrard, it would also allow him to leave some key players out of the remaining two fixtures against Standard Liege at Ibrox on December 3 and Lech Poznan in Poland seven days later and lessen their workload during a hectic period of the domestic campaign.

Fantastic platform

“We want Thursday to be pivotal,” said Gerrard. “We want it to be a big night. It’s a shame we haven’t got the crowd here to help us like they have before so we have to motivate ourselves, come out and try and get qualification done as quickly as possible.

“With three games to go, we have given ourselves a fantastic platform but we are playing against a really good team with top players.

“But we are going to go foot to the floor on Thursday and give it everything we can to try and get the job done because maybe it can help us further down the line domestically.

“We have to wait and see if we can do that. That will be a challenge. Hopefully we can achieve that.

“If it does happen, it will certainly help us from a domestic point of view in terms of looking after people. But we certainly want to get it done as quickly as possible.”

Explaining the changes

The strength in depth of Rangers squad this season has allowed him to regularly make multiple changes to his starting line-up without disrupting the team’s momentum.

“That’s the pleasing thing for me, that the level and the understanding stays really high,” he added. “You see the substitutes we brought on against Aberdeen on Sunday and how eager they were to score.

“You can see Jermain Defoe’s hunger and movement, Ianis Hagi had a chance, Cedric Itten had a couple of a chances. I still had Brandon Barker there and could have used him because he scored in the last game.

"We have certainly got the options and I am in a fantastic place at the moment in that respect. But the key is can we keep them healthy and keep the group in a good place for the rest of the season? If we do, we’ll continue to give teams a lot of problems.”

Blow for Patterson

Gerrard had hoped to utilise his squad further next weekend by handing Nathan Patterson his first start of the season at right-back in the Betfred Cup last 16 tie away to Falkirk on Sunday. But the highly-rated 19-year-old was identified as one of the close contacts of those who tested positive from Scotland under-21s’ trip to Greece last week and must self-isolate for 14 days.

"It’s a real shame for Nathan,” said Gerrard. “He would definitely have played against Falkirk.”

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