If you look at the current standings in the Scottish Premier League, you can see that the form of Rangers seems to be impressive. After all, they are currently more than 20 points ahead of nearest rivals Celtic, albeit that Celtic have games in hand. However, this does not necessarily mean that they will transfer this form over to the Europa League.
Rangers meet Antwerp in the last 32 of the competition with the first leg taking place in Belgium on 18 February and the return being played at Ibrox on 25 February. If you look at Europa League betting odds, it’s clear that neither team is fancied to win the competition with Rangers best odds at around 33-1 and odds for Antwerp at around 200-1. That being said, there is always a chance of upsets in Europe and any progression is good news in terms of financial returns. So, Rangers will be looking to secure victory in the round and they could be helped by unrest at Antwerp and the return of a key player.
Problems in the Antwerp camp
It’s been widely reported that there has been player unrest at Antwerp. The problems started when Lamkel Ze wore an Anderlecht shirt for training, and said he would go on to wear a Beershot shirt. The Cameroon international’s behaviour was intended to progress a transfer to Panathinaikos.
Angered fans turned up at the club’s training ground as a result and riot police were deployed. Despite the trouble caused by the player, the team’s new manager Franky Vercauteren welcomed him back into the team after Lamkel Ze promised to stay clear of social media. The rebel scored on his return but a strike by the other players was narrowly avoided. So, Anderlecht do not come into the game against Rangers in a very good frame of mind. This is not the only factor that should help Rangers enforce their apparent superiority as indicated in the betting.
Arfield return is good news
The return of Canadian Scott Arfield to fitness is also a major plus for Rangers. Although manager Steven Gerard has not confirmed that Arfield will play, his return does provide the manager with valuable extra options.
So far, Gerard has only confirmed that Arfield’s return is “going well” since the player limped off against Hibs over the Christmas period. However, he has said that the Canadian’s addition to the squad for Europe is a possibility. This is a boost for the Scottish side that has already seen Ryan Jack recently return to fitness.
If Arfield does return, it will mean that his recovery has gone to plan, given that the originally expected time frame for his return to action was four to six weeks. It will also give Gerard additional midfield options when it comes to choosing a squad, and team, for the Antwerp games.
This is important for a team that is keen to progress as far as possible in a competition where they have never progressed further than the third round. If you look at all the circumstances together, you have to give Rangers a great chance of progressing through this round. Then, there is always a good opportunity for them to impress against some of the teams that are more favoured in the betting.
Rangers’ Europa League aspirations will also be helped by their dominance domestically. If they stay as far ahead, they will have more opportunity to concentrate their efforts on Europe in order to progress as far as possible in the Europa League.