Villarreal v Rangers preview: Steven Gerrard focused on winning Europa League opener
Alfredo Morelos and Jon Flanagan suspended for the trip to Spain
Last Updated: 20/09/18 4:57pm
Steven Gerrard says he is focused on winning Rangers' Europa League group stage opener as they travel to Villarreal on Thursday (kick-off 5.55pm BST).
The Gers made it through the qualifying rounds and were drawn into Group G along with Spartak Moscow, Villarreal and Rapid Wien.
Although it is a tough group, manager Gerrard insists that his side will be competitive and are focused on three points in Spain.
"When you are a manager, you have to play to your strengths. We want to play football as much as possible, but it's not always about it looking great on the eye, it's about winning," he said.
"It is important we take one game at a time. We are the underdogs in the group, but in the dressing room, we have a quiet confidence and belief we can make it out the group. We are not here to make the numbers up."
One player who is set to feature for Villarreal is Santi Cazorla, and he is relishing his return to a European competition after his recent long-term injury.
He said: "My last match in Europe was two years ago in the Champions League. So returning to European competition is great, and even more so with Villarreal. I've had great experiences with this club and hopefully we do something great this year. We are aiming for the sky in every competition, but we know it will be difficult."
Alfredo Morelos and Jon Flanagan are suspended for the trip to Spain after being sent off in their qualifying play-off game against FC Ufa.
Ryan Jack, Gareth McAuley (both calf) and Ovie Ejaria (hip) are absent through injury. Left-back Borna Barisic will make his European debut for Gers after being ineligible for the qualifiers but Jamie Murphy, Graham Dorrans (both knee) and Jordan Rossiter (ankle) remain on the sidelines.
Villarreal have few injury worries, although danger men Carzola and Carlos Bacca - who came off the bench to score the winning goal against Leganes at the weekend - could start at the Estadio de la Ceramica on Thursday.
This will be the third competitive meeting between Rangers and Villarreal. They met previously in the last 16 of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League with Villarreal progressing on away goals after a 2-2 draw in Glasgow and a 1-1 draw in the return match in Spain.
Current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard won the 2000-01 UEFA Cup as a player for Liverpool, scoring in the final against Alaves in a 5-4 victory. He played 14 times for Liverpool in the Europa League under its current format, scoring five and assisting four goals in the competition.
This will be Villarreal's fifth successive season in the UEFA Europa League and in each of the past four campaigns, they have successfully navigated through the Group Stages.
Villarreal have been knocked out of the UEFA Europa League at the Last 32 stage in the last two seasons (2016-17 & 2017-18)
Villarreal have lost three successive European matches - they haven't lost four in a row in European competition since December 2011 (six in a row).
Rangers are unconvincing. At home they are definitely improving under Steven Gerrard. A lot of people are unsure but I am convinced they are improving, it is just early stages for them. This competition was about getting in there and getting the money and their profile up.
Villarreal won at the weekend but have not started the season well. They have an intimidating little stadium, not hostile but an intimidating little pitch and it is different.
They are very good technically, always have pace up front, and I think Rangers will struggle in this group, starting with a defeat.
I am going Villarreal to win 2-0, high in discipline with Rangers struggling to sort theirs out at the moment, so 40+ Rangers booking points.
Charlie predicts: Villarreal 2-0 Rangers (5/1 with Sky Bet)