Villarreal vs Rangers live: latest updates
Villarreal vs Rangers live: match preview
A night of returns and reunions. Rangers are back in the competition proper of a European tournament after a six-year absence, having come through a painful period in the doldrums brought about by their bankruptcy-enforced drop to Scottish football's fourth tier. For Villarreal, the Glaswegians are familiar foes who they defeated in the Champions League last 16 in 2006, when the men from Castellón were starting to make themselves known to the wider world and got all the way to the last four of the competition. And Steven Gerrard, the fabulous former Liverpool midfielder, now manager of the visitors, will come up against Santi Cazorla, who he went toe to toe with so many times in the Premier League before the Spaniard's injury hell began. However, the striker Alfredo Morelos, who made his debut for Colombia in September, misses out on the chance to come up against his countryman and role model, Carlos Bacca. The 22-year-old is suspended, and is replaced by the towering presence of Kyle Lafferty.
On paper, Villarreal come into tonight's Group G clash as firm favourites. The LaLiga side are yet to lose in their previous three meetings with Scottish opposition and, in addition to being the team with the most games in the Europa League (62), they have the most victories (33) and goals (104). What's more, Rangers' less than impressive record in Spain merely offers the Submarino Amarillo further cause to be confident: the Gers (who, when refounded, dispensed with the 'Glasgow' at the front of their name), have not won in 11 previous visits to the country.
With a local derby with Valencia just around the corner, Villarreal boss Javi Calleja has said he'll be making changes to the team that started the weekend LaLiga win at Leganés. Ramiro Funes Mori could be handed an opportunity, while in attack the as yet goalless Toko Ekambi is expected to make way for Bacca. Rangers, who arrive at the Estadio de la Cerámica fresh from thrashing Dundee in the Scottish Premiership, have absences to contend with and are set to add defensive steel to their side by playing five midfielders. In attack, meanwhile, they have a clear gameplan: get direct passes forward, fight tooth and nail for the second ball and make the most of set pieces. Gerrard knows that this Villarreal trip will severely test their mettle, and not only because the hosts' support is twinned with that of Rangers' Old Firm rivals Celtic. Many of those who are substitutes under Calleja are looking to change that state of affairs.