MANAGER Steven Gerrard reckons his team-talk for Rangers’ Europa League qualifier with FK Shkupi is already done.
Having fallen at the first stage to Progres Niederkorn last season, Gerrard is determined to avoid a repeat, and with the pain of that loss still fresh, he hopes that will be enough to spur his players on to victory.
Should the Light Blues be fortunate enough to defeat the Macedonian outfit, they will progress to play either CS Petroclub of Moldova or NK Osijek of Croatia, though Gerrard insists thoughts of any potential game with those sides won’t be required yet.
“The message to the players will be to focus on the first game,” he told RangersTV in Spain, “but I don’t think it will be a very difficult team-talk for that first qualifying round just because of what happened last year.
“The team and the squad were very complacent and went out at that stage, so the team-talk is already done really.
“It is very important we stay focused and show this team huge respect as they have earned the right to be here and have the chance to play against Rangers.
“Rangers themselves are a draw and a cup final for anyone. It is a shop-window for all of their players and they will be desperate to knock us out like the team did last year.
“We will have to be on our toes and show everyone the respect they need.”
The prospect of playing at Ibrox on a European night is something which appeals massively to Gerrard, and he cannot wait to sample that for the first time.
He continued: “First and foremost, I am very excited to be involved in the draw and to have that opportunity to try and qualify for the Europa League.
“I am sure all the players want to be on that stage and have that platform for their own personal careers, so it is a good draw for us and a good test being drawn at home first and I am really excited to get in front of the Ibrox crowd for real, and hopefully we will get a good result to set us up for the away leg.
“We want to play in Europe. This club belongs in Europe, but first and foremost, we have to go and qualify, and the new players we bring in here; that chat is always on the agenda.
“They want to play in Europe and I want to coach in Europe. All the fans want big nights at Ibrox, and also have the opportunity to go away and support the team.
“We are not going to play it down, it is very important and we want to be in that group stage, but it’s each step at a time.
“We’ll focus on the home leg, and make sure the team are prepared for that test.”
The preparations for the Shkupi tie have already begun with the pre-season camp in Spain, and the manager is thrilled with how things have been progressing there so far.
“We are loving it,” he added, “we are enjoying it, and to be fair to the boys, they have emptied the tank for us. They have come in here with full commitment and desire to what we have asked for, so there are no complaints there.
“It has been tough for them, and two sessions a day in this heat is a test. I am delighted with the application so far and I can feel they are starting to take notice of the messages we are giving them.”