A swathe of positive COVID-19 tests, an absent manager, a third-choice keeper and an Old Firm derby looming on the horizon. Rangers must feel jinxed as they prepare to face Armenian side Alashkert in the second leg of their Europa League play-off. Fans of The Gers can cling onto the fact their team lead 1-0 from the first leg. But with the pandemic wreaking havoc on the field and in the dugout, this afternoon’s game promises to be less than straightforward.
Captain James Tavernier, Calvin Bassey, Ryan Kent, Scott Wright and goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Jon McLaughlin all miss out after positive COVID tests. The pandemic has also waylaid Rangers boss Steven Gerrard, with assistant manager Gary McAllister expected to take the team against the Armenian champions. With John Lundstram sent off in the first leg, and Kemar Roofe still suspended, it is a severely depleted line-up that have travelled to capital city Yerevan.
Goalkeeper is a position that has been decimated more than any other. McGregor and McLaughlin are the number one and two picks in the role, leaving Gerrard to call upon third-choice Robby McCrorie. The 23-year-old academy graduate would be making his Gers debut, after spending last season on loan at Livingston. The Rangers bench will be bolstered by youth players, with prospects Leon King, Cole McKinnon and Arron Lyall in contention to feature.
The preparations for this crunch European tie have been less than ideal, and Rangers can’t afford to look past today’s game despite the huge occasion that awaits on Sunday. The first Old Firm game of the campaign represents Rangers’ toughest test of this young season, as they look to defend their first SPFL title in ten years. Celtic are also in European action tonight against AZ Alkmaar, but their short trip to Holland is far less taxing than Rangers’ 11 hour flight to Armenia. The Hoops also enjoy a two-goal cushion, putting them in the box seat to progress.
Rangers are still fancied to make it to the group stages of this competition. After the disappointment of being dumped out of the Champions League against Malmo, Europa League football is a key part of Steven Gerrard’s next step at the Glasgow club. They should still progress, with the available players a cut above those of Alashkert. Rangers were more dominant than the scoreline suggested at Ibrox, where Alfredo Morelos’ 67th minute strike put them in front, and the Scottish champions should have enough to finish the job away from home.