Before I start I would just like to send my thanks to David for the support on Mondays daily update. I appreciate it. I thank all of you on that front.
Personally, I voted for the post-match stuff to stay, I enjoy doing it and welcome any football chat at any point before or after games. If you see me please come chat I have no issues at all, in fact, it's why I do this.
My point I made on Saturday maybe could have been better constructed or verbalised, I don't mind if you don't agree with any of my views, after all, the debate is fun. My point was merely that I don't trust Morelos in big games until he proves it. I want him to do well, as I do every Rangers player. I didn't say he had a bad game, it's just the type of game I expect him to excel in. I try to be honest as I can.
Prospects are suspect until proven otherwise.
Thursday night/ early evening will see Rangers begin the Europa League group stages, in a match that will no doubt provide the stiffest test yet for both the players and Steven Gerrard when we travel to Spain to face Villarreal.
This could be an absolute blessing in terms of timing with regard to the fixtures, coming not only on the back of an impressive display at Ibrox on Saturday over Dundee but its very much a game that we are not expected to take too much from. I think most supporters would be happy with a draw if offered up at present. Serving as our toughest fixture in the group means that even if we do fail (no, I'm not being negative) to secure any sort of positive result it means we can still go forward knowing far less difficult tasks await us in the group.
Villarreal currently sits in 13th position in La Liga and are coming off a 1 -0 victory at the weekend away at Leganes. A game they could afford to rest star man and joint top goalscorer Carlos Bacca for.
Here are my 5 storylines to follow vs Villarreal.
1 - HOW WILL WE DEAL WITH THE STEP UP IN OPPOSITION?
Make no mistake this is our sides toughest test to date, we will have to keep extremely high concentration levels up throughout the course of the match. Some of the defensive lapses and space we have given sides far worse than our opponents on Thursday will need to be eradicated to ensure we stand any chance of a result against the yellow submarines.
Saturday again saw too much be given up in key areas, mostly just in front of our defensive line at times, with Dundee passing on one or more guilt edge chances, better teams will punish us and won't give us the ball back quite as easily as other sides we faced domestically or have done in Europe so far that easy. Ball retention as in all European games is vital. I can't stress this enough. The most tiring thing to do is chase shadows.
Many observers of the Spanish game feel a draw or win is not completely out of the question in this match and I always go into every game feeling positive, why show up or keep score otherwise then. I suppose its more an age thing with Rangers historically not performing well against Spanish sides, think Valencia and a Kris Boyd sitter the last time we visited La Ceramica might have something to do with that. Now, this is not a side at the same level as the teams you might say, but neither are we at present.
A result is not out of our reach by any means, but we must remain switched on and clued-up.
2 - WHERE DO WE EXPLOIT?
I'm not sure we are the type of side that is going to play through many Spanish teams at this stage in our development. Despite Villarreal struggles currently. What they are is a good footballing side who play in a league that gets players on the ball and have many experienced individuals in key areas all over the park. Cazorla is just one example of a player we will have to be very cautious of.
Where we can exploit them is at set plays. I don't want to come over all Big Sam here, but when you are faced with a talent deficiency or lack of experience these are key areas you can get goals from. What they will not be used to playing in La Liga is the physical approach that we can use to our advantage. Get tight, not dirty I'm not talking of playing like Motherwell here, just being aggressive in our play and manner.
3 - K-LAFF
If ever a game is tailor made for the Northern Irishman this is it, personally, I think not having Morelos in the squad might benefit the big man, the two have yet to strike up an understanding. Not all that surprising since both have been away representing their respective nations. This is not Morelos bashing as I was accused of on Saturday post-match. Just an opinion held by me, nothing more.
Lafferty was at his best for both Hearts and Northern Ireland when he was the focal point the lone striker, a role he knows to play so well. He can give us an outlet as well as giving the backline of our continental opponents something to think over, be a nuisance and a key disrupting factor in both our build up and attacking play.
Kyle will need to be ruthless, chances will not be as forthcoming and frequent as they are in the Scottish league. When presented they must be taken.
In the past, he has shown he is a big game player, so Thursday is another chance to do just that.
4 - MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
My concerns heading into to the last Old Firm encounter at Parkhead was simply we would lose the battle in the middle of the park. Sadly this proved true in this case, of course, Heart & Hands own Lassana Coulibaly will play on Thursday, the fact his injury coincided with a few dropped points for us was of no surprise to me.
The question will be in how much support we can get around him at stages.
Who plays and where is a great conundrum for the manager, at last, we have a team that is flexible that we can go with different formations and roles. Just look at Ryan Kent on Saturday as a prime example. Switching him to a more central position was one of the changes you don't see on paper. That's coaching for you.
Will Gerrard go with a 5 man midfield or a 5 man defence is probably his biggest tactical question he faces, I personally would go with the larger in terms of numbers in the midfield, I see the area the trenches of the match, where it will be won and lost if I'm honest.
I can see a scenario where Gerrard opts for a 5 man backline, either way, it's down to how we play.
5 - SUCK IT UP
There is no question at all in my mind that at points throughout the match we will have to do just that. So what?. Defending and defending as a team is an art form and shouldn't be looked down upon. Good defending, one that starts from the front is what wins games, sometimes it's not all about style points.
Football and how it should be played has been romanticised to a large degree, we don't have the budget to compete for the world's top players, so we must find a way to level the game at times if that means sitting back and playing counter-attacking football, so be it.
It feels great to be back and I know it might not carry the prestige or false glamour, depending on your own view of the champions league but what it is proof we are on the right track.
PREDICTION - VILLARREAL 1 - 1 RANGERS
As always let me know your views and predictions.
Steven Harrigan (@steven_harrigan)