STEVEN GERRARD today called for his players to find “a lot better level of performance than we have been showing of late” as they prepare for the UEFA Europa League visit of SC Braga tomorrow.
It’s set to be a huge night for the Light Blues as they play post-Christmas European football for the first time in nine years – and boss Gerrard reckons a strong performance tomorrow can also spark them back into their best form on the domestic front too.
Speaking at this afternoon’s media conference, the boss said: “I hope so. I think if we can find that performance against a team at the level of Braga, I am sure that will bring the confidence and the belief that we need.
“I believe we have found our best performances in Europe and we do seem as if the tougher the challenge, the more we rise to that challenge.
“They are the form team in Portugal right now. In the last four or five weeks they have won a cup final against Porto, they have beaten Sporting Lisbon and they have beaten Benfica just recently.
“We have nothing but respect for this team that are coming to Glasgow tonight. They had good performances against Wolves and did ever so well to get out of the group, so we know the challenge.
“We have been the underdogs in this competition since the group stages, so I don’t think anything changes there.
“But it is certainly a fixture we can’t wait for, we are really excited and you can see that in the players’ eyes and with the focus and the training over the last couple of days.
“It’s big for us – of course it’s big, and we are going to have to find a lot better level of performance than we have been showing of late.”
Rangers will also play their first-ever game in which VAR is in use, with Gerrard warning his players to be aware of certain situations it may produce.
“We had a meeting here a few weeks back where a couple of the Scottish referees came in and explained the rules of VAR and what the referees in UEFA are looking for and what they are prepared to clamp-down on.
“We have echoed that meeting to the players and made it nice and clear. The players are well-aware of what to do and how to act in certain situations, but it will be slightly different to what we are used to.
“Everyone has to be ready for that experience – staff included. The most important thing that came out of it was to keep playing.
“There are certain situations where a flag can go up or a flag can stay down, and in normal situations that might lead you to stop or wait, so it is important we play right to the very end and it is important we don’t make any type of gesture of VAR, try to crowd around the referee or go towards the monitor.
“They have made that very clear that they will act in that situation and dish yellow cards out. The players are well aware and we have made that nice and clear – that’s for sure – and we are going to have to be very careful and make sure we behave and are very disciplined during the game and over both legs.”
The manager was also asked if this is an opportunity for the Rangers players to prove people wrong, and he continued: “I think everyone does in football, especially in cup competitions as there is always an opportunity when you are the underdog to prove to people you belong at that level and can mix it with players at your level from an individual point of view.
“And also, this is where the players want to be. When you sit down with the players when you sign them new or when you sit down with existing players, they all want to experience the opportunity to play for Rangers at European level.
“It will be a packed house and I am really looking forward to seeing what performance the crowd bring as they can be a huge help for us tomorrow.”
Gerrard also gave an injury update, adding: “Borna [Barisic] did the majority of yesterday’s session and then came through this morning’s session, and he is the only added name to as it was.”