Barry Ferguson, the Rangers' captain, insisted last night that all the pressure will be on Barcelona this evening when the Spanish team arrive at Ibrox in the Champions' League. For once there was no kidology to such a statement.
Barça are overwhelming favourites with the bookmakers to win, and Rangers are generally 5-1 shots, on their own turf. But Rangers, like tonight's visitors, have already taken six points from six from their first two Group E games – against Stuttgart and Lyons – to give themselves a decent platform for progress.
Even if Rangers suffered two defeats in the upcoming double-header against the Catalan club, they would go into their last two group matches no worse than second in the table, and with their fate in their own hands. Should Stuttgart and Lyons cancel each other out in their own double-header, which commences tonight in Germany, the picture would be rosier still.
Barcelona also have more injuries that Rangers – albeit with a depth of back-up resources than Rangers can only dream of – and suffered the first blip of their season at the weekend, losing 3-1 to Villarreal.
"So we are going into the game with no pressure at all," Ferguson said. "Barcelona have got to come here and they will be the ones under pressure."
Rangers will be without Brahim Hemdani and Jean-Claude Darcheville, two players who have had key roles in this season's European games. Hemdani, an Algerian-born French holding midfielder, is out with a groin problem, while his compatriot Darcheville has a hamstring strain and will be unavailable up front.
Those absences will pose a tactical dilemma for the Rangers' manager, Walter Smith. He must either find an alternative to Hemdani to specifically guard the back four, or play a five-man midfield where those duties are shared, or gamble on a two-man attack. One option would be to field the same players and same 4-4-2 formation who comfortably beat Celtic 3-0 in Saturday's Old Firm derby.
Barça are without Deco, who tore a muscle at the weekend, as well as Yaya Touré, Samuel Eto'o, Edmilson, Rafael Marquez and Gianluca Zambrotta. But with Eidur Gudjohnsen likely to replace Deco in midfield, and Ronaldinho recalled to play with Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry in a three-pronged attack, they can hardly be described as weakened.
"Our task tomorrow night will be a formidable one," Smith said. The manager likened Rangers' task in their next two European games with the one they faced – under his management – against Juventus in the group stage in 1995. Rangers lost 4-1 in Italy and were then drubbed 4-0 at home by a Juventus team who went on to win the competition.
"I think this [Barcelona draw] is equal to when we played Juventus," Smith said. "They were a formidable side at that time – a different type of team to Barcelona – but every bit as effective. "[But] this is an opportunity we look forward to."
Omen-seekers in the Rangers camp might be heartened by the referee, Austria's Konrad Plautz, who officiated when Rangers drew 1-1 with Internazionale two years ago to reach the knockout phase for the first time, and who was also in charge when Scotland, including four Rangers players, beat France, including Barça's Eric Abidal and Lilian Thuram, 1-0 in Paris last month.
Abidal said yesterday: "I've played against Scotland for France twice, and lost twice. The Scots play aggressive, physical football... [to win at Ibrox with Barça] we need to play our own game, and not get trapped into physical duels."Reuse content