IT is fair to say the build-up to the first leg of the Europa League last 16 double header with Bayer Leverkusen has not been without its complications for Rangers manager Steven Gerrard.

What with the injuries to Jermain Defoe, Ryan Jack and James Tavernier, the barren run his leading scorer Alfredo Morelos has been on and the dire state of the Ibrox pitch, there has been much for Gerrard to consider.

There has also, as if he didn’t have enough to contend with, been the not so small matter of the deadly coronavirus that is spreading across the globe, causing widespread concern and wreaking havoc as it does so, to factor in to the equation.

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Gerrard knew what he was getting into when he agreed to take over at Rangers two years, but he could never have anticipated such challenges.

Yet, the former Liverpool and England midfielder - who is hoping his side can once again put a spell of indifferent domestic form behind them, produce a rousing display and record an improbable result in Europe - believes it is the visitors to Glasgow who present the greatest test of his abilities.

Leverkusen have won 10, drawn two and lost just one of the 13 matches they have played in 2020, are sitting in fourth place in the Bundesliga as a result and thrashed Porto 5-2 in the last round of this competition. They have been Gerrard’s main focus in recent days.

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“We've had scouts at their last three or four games and my own personal analyst was at their last league game at the weekend (they thrashed Eintracht Frankfurt 4-0 at home on Saturday),” said Gerrard.

“I know they’re a fantastic team. Anyone who is sitting in the top four of the German league, the Bundesliga, you have to respect instantly. The German league is one of the strongest in the world.

“This is a team that’s competing with Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Leipzig, who have shown over the last two or three weeks in the Champions League that they can compete with the top teams in the Premier League. We know what we’re dealing with. But this is an opportunity that we all want to look forward to and relish and go and give it our best shot.”

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Rangers have bounced back from disappointing draws and defeats in Scotland, including before their matches against Braga last month, in Europe this season. Can they do so once again against the most formidable rivals they have faced to date on their continental adventure? It will be their finest achievement to date if they can prevail and secure a quarter-final berth. But Gerrard is hopeful.

“I think we will find a performance,” he said. “I can see the boys are focused in their preparation. They’ve been lively in the last couple of sessions. We all know as a group collectively that we’re going to have to find a performance if we’re to compete with this level of opposition. Sometimes it takes opposition like this to find your best so let’s hope that’s the case.”

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The return leg in the Bay Arena in Leverkusen next Thursday night will be played behind closed doors because of concerns over the coronavirus – the north Rhine-Westphalia region has recorded the highest number of cases in Germany.

However, another huge crowd will cram into the Govan ground as normal this evening in the hope of seeing Rangers pull of an upset. Gerrard knows how important their vocal backing will be to his men.

“I see a determination and a focus to go and put a real good proud show on for our fans,” he said. “When these fans are behind us in this stadium we can find that level and we’re a good team.We can compete with anyone that rolls in here.

“The crowd will definitely be with us. They really appreciate the work and the effort that's gone in to get us to this stage. These were the nights that I wanted when I first came in the door and to try to bring the pride back amongst European competition. The players have earned that so I'm sure the fans are going to be right behind us and we're certainly going to need them.”

Neither Rangers or Leverkusen have been able to train at Ibrox ahead of tonight’s match due to the poor state of the playing surface. But Gerrard doesn’t feel it will impact on how the home team will approach the fixture.

Glasgow Times:

"It's not in fantastic condition,” he said. "It's been well documented the problems we've had with it due to the extreme weather we've had in the last eight to 12 weeks. The groundsmen and staff have been working tirelessly to improve it and it's slightly better than what it was when Braga came to town. The situation with the pitch is something which will be rectified in the future.

"We have to be sensible. If it is a wet night during the 90 minutes and the pitch does begin to cut up then obviously as a player you sometimes have to alter your decisions. But I don't think the pitch is in a way which forces us to tear apart our game-plan our own style. "