Rangers have certainly come a long way since they last met Progres Niederkorn two years ago.
Captain James Tavernier says the improvements that the club have made since the shock defeat to the Luxembourgian minnows is like night and day:
“The squad is completely different now. The gaffer and Mark Allen have taken the club forward. The training ground has been refurbished, Ibrox too. The surroundings have improved, which has made everything better for us as players.”
“We have come a long way. The new players have brought the levels up. All the coaching staff are doing a tremendous job and the boys enjoying working with them. We’re all fighting for a shirt and must perform on the training ground every day.”
For then manager Pedro Caixinha, the wheels had pretty much come off before his first full season in charge had even begun, but things are a lot more settled and serene under current boss Steven Gerrard.
Careful planning by both Gerrard and Director of Football Mark Allen has led to the squad being transformed over the past twelve months. It’s too early to tell whether they have managed to bridge the gap to Celtic but pitting their strength against their previous conquerors in Europe will be a pretty good benchmark for how far they have developed.
One of the main issues against Progres, in the away leg specifically, was the porousness of the defence. Only one of that back five that started in Luxembourg two years ago is still a first-team regular – that, of course, being Tavernier.
Wes Foderingham is now reserve to Allan McGregor, while Fabio Cardoso, Adam Bates and Lee Wallace have all since left the club. In midfield, things have also changed dramatically.
Again, there is one player remaining from that side that surrendered so meekly in the second leg, Ryan Jack. Nico Kranjcar has since retired, while Jordan Rossiter (on loan) and Daniel Candeias have just recently departed too.
Players like Glen Kamara and Joe Aribo are of a different calibre, and with a big threat coming from the flanks on either side in Jordan Jones and Sheyi Ojo, you would expect a bigger first leg score than the one goal Rangers managed under Caixinha.
Certainly, Gerrard won’t be taking Progres lightly. His vast experience as a player, in stark contrast to one of his predecessors, means he knows how to deal with occasions, both big and small.
He sets standards for players that they must not drop below, or they will be dropped. They showed in Europe last season what they are capable of by going toe-to-toe with the likes of Villarreal in the group stages, and they will want to reach the same heights again.
The standards two years ago fell well below what was expected of Rangers players. It was a low ebb that Gerrard will be very keen not to repeat. On Thursday night, despite many of the players being different, the club will want to consign that humbling defeat to memory.