Giovanni van Bronckhorst will take charge of his first game as Rangers manager on Thursday night, as his new side welcome Sparta Prague to Ibrox for their crucial Europa League encounter.
The two sides – who are level on four points in Group A – head into this contest off the back of disappointing domestic defeats at the weekend, and another loss for either team in Glasgow could end their hopes of advancing to the knockout rounds.
For the first time in over three years, Rangers took to the pitch at the weekend without Steven Gerrard as their head coach, following his departure to Aston Villa over the international break.
Former player Van Bronckhorst has since taken the reins but he had to watch his new side from the stands at Hampden Park, as they suffered a surprise 3-1 defeat against Hibernian in the Scottish League Cup semi-finals.
Hopes of an Old Firm final are now over, and their chances of advancing in the Europa League are also at risk, having endured a more challenging group-stage campaign compared to last year.
After suffering two defeats without scoring against runaway Group A leaders Lyon and Thursday’s opponents Sparta Prague, Rangers have since claimed four points from their home and away fixtures against Brondby, which keeps them in contention of finishing in second place.
The Gers, who had twice as many points at this stage of the Europa League last season, need to beat Sparta in midweek by at least two goals to book their place in the last 32, while defeat would see them eliminated from the competition.
Van Bronckhorst has inherited a side who have only won two of their last 10 European fixtures, so the Dutchman will be hoping he can have an immediate impact to keep their continental dreams alive.
Sparta Prague suffered their first league defeat of the season and their heaviest since May 2019, when they were beaten 4-0 away against title rivals Slovanko in the Czech First League on Sunday.
The 21-time champions, who are searching for their first top-flight title since 2013-14, remain at the summit for now, though the gap to second place has been reduced to three points.
After also losing their previous away game 3-0 to Lyon in the Europa League, Pavel Vrba’s men now head into Thursday’s game hoping to avoid a third successive loss on the road. However, Sparta have a poor away record in European competition, as they have lost ten of their last 12 matches.
The Czech outfit have also struggled in the Europa League over the years, winning only three of their last 13 games; however, all three have been against Scottish opponents, including September’s 1-0 triumph against Rangers on home soil.
That victory will give Vrba’s men confidence for their crucial clash at Ibrox and another win against the Gers would see them advance to the knockout rounds for the third time in four years.
Rangers Europa League form:
Rangers form (all competitions):
Sparta Prague Europa League form:
Sparta Prague form (all competitions):
We say: Rangers 2-1 Sparta Prague
Both teams can seal their place in the last 32 of the Europa League with a victory on Thursday; however, a draw would be more beneficial to the visitors who have the better head-to-head record as things stand.
With a new manager at the helm for a European night under the lights at Ibrox, the home supporters will act as a 12th man for Rangers, which could help to get them over the line and secure a narrow victory.