Five Storylines to Follow - Rangers vs Ufa

First of all I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for the feedback, both on the blog and pod, it means an awful lot to me, and I am extremely grateful. 

Rangers vs Ufa - Europa League Play Off Leg 1 23rd August 2018

This Thursday sees Rangers welcome Ufa to Ibrox in the final qualifying round before the Europa League group stages. Following on from another hugely impressive showing at Rugby Park on Sunday in the Bet Fred cup, despite more substandard officiating, and of course at a cost in the injury sustained to Jaime Murphy, due to Kilmarnock's 5 a side surface, something I had flagged up previously. 

1 - THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE

The trio of McGregor, Katic and Goldson should be known as the Bermuda triangle as quite simply nothing gets past them. 

Rangers have not been behind for a single minute of a game so far this season this is down to the bond and play of the 3 key players aforementioned. What a complete upgrade on last season this has been. I still, like many of you shudder and go into a cold sweat when I hear the name Russell Martin. It's a bit like candy man, say Russell Martin aloud 3 times, and we all fear he will appear back. 

In the last European outing McGregor was unbeatable, he had one of those games that we remember so well from his first spell with the club. Wes came in on Sunday, letting nobody down, I think in the process showing why he a more than able understudy. The thing is McGregor is a just far better keeper, he has a presence and brings leadership qualities Wes does not currently posses. 

In my opinion the key reason for our impressive, defensive displays are down to the three players who form the last line of defence. I said I wasn't sure on Katic but the big man has made me quite happily eat my words, he has been a warrior at the back. Goldson has strolled through every game he has played, then when teams have on very rare occasions got past them, McGregor has been there to make crucial save after save. 

Another clean sheet on Thursday night will go a long way in helping secure our passage to the group stages. 

2 - LAFFERTY

Lafferty has returned for his second spell at the club and will be our wildcard player for the match. If you had asked me before the game on Sunday how big a role he was likely to play I would have most likely erred on the side of caution - saying a cameo role off the bench - however the injury suffered by Jamie Murphy this could very well accelerate Lafferty's role. 

I wouldn't be completely surprised to see him still start from the bench, but certainly think he will get an introduction at some point. What he will give us is a physical presence coming in from the left that maybe Kent can't give us. Keep a close eye for McGregor using the Northern Irishman as an out ball in turning defence into attack. 

3 - BEWARE THE UNKNOWN

I think its fair to say not too much is known about our opponent's Ufa, that does not mean we should get complacent or feel we are home and dry, there is still plenty of football to be played. High concentration levels are needed in any European game, this team have made it to the this the same stage as us, respect must be afforded. Its still 11 vs 11. 

Now, I know many observers say Ufa are just not of the same quality as Maribor, that they were the better and more dangerous side. That all may very well be true, just keep in mind it is not just who you play, its how you play on the day. Focus is key in this type of fixture. 

Ufa will fancy their chances just as much as we do, what we must do is remain patient and chances will come our way, play it as the two legged tie it is. 

A new club having just been formed in 2009, starting of life in the Russian 3rd division, they have now spent four seasons in the top flight. Half of that time has been served staving off relegation, however the last two season has seen a dramatic upturn in form, with seventh and sixth place finishes. 

Currently Ufa sits in 11th place with only 4 points from the opening 4 games, losing their most recent match 3-0 on Monday night vs Dynamo Moscow. 

Ibrox will be full to the rafters and rocking once again under the floodlights, I know everyone will get behind the team and give them the backing they deserve. 

4 - MORELOS

The wee man is in the form of his life quite simply, even at his peak last season he didn't look this impressive or happy I may add. A hat trick on Sunday (should have been four) means he will be heading into the game on cloud nine. 

The gaffer has shown incredible faith and belief in Morelos, something that the Colombian front man has responded to with not only goals but in his all around play. 

If we are to get the victory and by the margin we suspect we could require before heading to Russia, Morelos is the key. 

5 - REPLACING MURPHY

Make no mistake his injury is a huge blow for us, not only in the short term of this game, but in the time he will miss out. 

Murphy has been fantastic for us since arriving first on loan last January, his link up play, ability to press, play in several positions and of course his goals mean others in the squad will be needed to contribute more. 

Ryan Kent and Ejria are young players who never shy away from receiving the ball, they are constantly looking for the ball, we just need a wee bit more in terms of quality in the final ball at times. 

Scott Arfield has been immense since joining, his play especially in receiving the ball in tight areas, moving it forward, creating space is something that can help us deal with the disappointment of Murphy's injury. 

I suspect we will dip into the transfer market seeking a replacement, I feel for the player in a huge way and wish him a speedy and full recovery. He is one of our own.  

PREDICTION:  RANGERS 3 - 0 UFA

Thanks,

Steven Harrigan (@steven_harrigan)

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