The UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round draw takes place today and this is where Rangers enter the competition. There are four possible opponents for the club at this stage;
- Sturm Graz (Austria)
- FK TSC (Serbia)
- Genk – Assuming they qualify from the 2nd round (Belgium)
- Dnipro-1 – Assuming they qualify from the 2nd round (Ukraine)
Some very interesting potential opponents on the list. This article will give an insight into these opponents and who could be the best option for Rangers in terms of Champions League progression.
SK Sturm Graz
The Austrian side finished 2nd in the Bundesliga behind powerhouse RB Salzburg. That is nothing to be ashamed of considering their spending power.
They’re based in Graz and play in the 16k seated Merkur Arena. They’re currently managed by Christian Ilzer who prefers to play a 4312, similar to the one Michael Beale ended last season with.
They have a really young squad currently, with an average age of just 23.6. They aren’t a free scoring side by any means, with no players reaching double figures in terms of domestic goals last season.
However, they do boost an impressive defensive record, conceding less than a goal per game throughout their domestic season.
They were incredibly unlucky in their last European campaign. They finished bottom of a group containing, Feyenord, Midjtylland and Lazio, despite all four sides finishing on 8 points! All four clubs miraculously won 2, drew 2 and lost 2. However, this is where there poor scoring form was their undoing. Scoring only 4 and conceding 10 meant they went straight out of European competitions for the season.
Drawing with Lazio twice and beating Feyenord in Austria show they can compete. They lost their most promising player in Emanuel Emegha recently, but did bring in over £10m for the Dutchman, so they have money to spend.
Manprit Sarkaria is a player to watch though, as the forward finished last season with 9 goals and 9 assists domestically. There’s been a lot of change in their side over the summer so it’ll be interesting to see how they play should Rangers draw them.
TSC Backa Topola
I first heard about TSC through Rangers supposed interest in Petar Ratkov. Despite Rangers not going for the young Serbian striker, thankfully RB Salzburg did and he won’t be someone Rangers have to worry about. Like Sturm Graz, they finished 2nd in their domestic league.
They play at the tiny 4.5k TSC Arena but they would surely have to play home matches elsewhere should they progress in the competition.
Alongside losing Ratkov, star midfielder from last season Luka Ilic went back to parent club Troyes, leaving a huge gap in their midfield. However, 31-year-old Sasa Jovanovic is a player to look out for, having scored 10 and got 11 assists in 34 domestic appearances.
Their manager, Zarko Lazetic, prefers to go with a 343 formation, so it would be interesting to see how Rangers would counteract that should they draw the Serbian side.
A much more well known entity are the Belgian side. They lost the league on the last day of the season due to a Toby Alderweireld strike in injury time, heart breaking.
They play their home matches at the 25k Cegeka Arena in Genk. Unlike the other sides above, they very much are a free scoring team. Averaging over two goals per game for the Pro League season.
They are another really young and hungry side with an average age of just 23.2. Manager Wouter Vrancken plays a classic 4231 formation, which they used to beat Burnley 2-0 in a recent friendly.
There are a couple of danger men Rangers really need to look out for if they draw the Belgians. The first one being Joseph Paintsil. The 25-year-old Ghanaian wide man plays on the right and scored 17 goals from there in the Pro League last season. On top of that, he also managed 11 assists. 28 goal contributions in 36 appearances is incredible and considering some of Rangers recent problems at left back, could be a concern.
The second player is Mike Tresor. The 24-year-old had such a good season that he’s now been capped by Belgium. In the Pro League season he had 24 assists and no, that isn’t a typo. He averaged more than 1 in 2 in terms of assist and that’s ridiculous. To add to that he also scored 8 goals, one of which came from a direct free kick. Tresor ended the season with 32 goal contributions in 39 games, truly incredible. As I said previously, his form was so good that he managed to force his way into an already stacked Belgian National side. He’s one to watch.
The Ukrainian side finished 2nd behind Shakhtar last season, again, nothing to be ashamed about. They play at the impressive Dnipro Arena which holds 31k and is based in Dnipro.
Their manager is former Ukraine international Oleksandr Kucher who, again, plays a 4231.
Their star man is 26-year-old Ukraine international Artem Dovbyk. His contract was due to be up in December leading to speculation he would be sold but, unfortunately, he signed a new deal till 2025.
The striker has 6 goals in 18 appearances for Ukraine with a very impressive 1 goal in 3 at international level. For Dnipro last season he scored 24 goals in 30 domestic appearances and got 3 assists. He averaged a goal every 107 minutes, impressive.
His form also extended to Europe as he scored 5 goals and got 2 assists in 7 Conference League appearances. A trip away to Ukraine and facing Dovbyk is definitely one Rangers may wish to avoid.
Of all 4 potential Champions League opponents, I think I would prefer Sturm Graz. TSC may have a weaker side overall but I feel a trip away to Austria may be easier than a Serbia trip.
Genk are definitely the most dangerous side of the 4 and one to, ideally, be avoided. Not that a trip away to Ukraine and Dnipro would be much fun either right enough!
Who do you fancy from this draw? Any preferences? Or are you confident against anyone? How highly do you rate Rangers chances of making it to the Champions League?
Read my thoughts on Rangers last performance here.