Europa League: Sparta Prague v Rangers – Philippe Clement eyes European victory

Todd Cantwell (left) could make a timely return to Rangers’ starting line-up

Europa League, Group C: Sparta Prague v Rangers

Venue: Stadion Letna, Prague Date: Thursday, 26 October Kick-off: 17:45 BST

Coverage: Listen on BBC Sounds & BBC Radio Scotland, plus follow live on the BBC Sport website & app

Rangers travel to Prague in rather better shape than they were before their previous European outing in Cyprus against Aris Limassol.

Although no reflection on the man himself, Steven Davis’ interim managerial debut was an abject failure as the players who had contributed greatly to Michael Beale’s demise turned in another lacklustre performance in losing yet another European away tie.

The statistics when it comes to Rangers’ away form in Europe make for bleak reading whichever way you frame them.

They have lost their last seven on the road in the Europa League and Champions League since beating Borussia Dortmund 4-2 in February 2022.

That is their only win in 12 in those competitions, drawing three and losing eight. They’ve lost nine of their last 11 away games, including qualifiers, with last season’s 1-0 win against PSV Eindhoven and this year’s draw with Servette the only exceptions.

The wins in Eindhoven and Dortmund are their only ones in the last 18 on their European travels all told, drawing five and losing 11.

Those are painful figures to digest and surely have to be improved if Rangers are to progress in the Europa League – and certainly if they have designs on winning the group.

That said, in their run to the final two seasons ago, the defeat in Prague by Thursday’s opponents left them pointless after their opening two group games, yet they somehow scrambled through and went on to come within a whisker of triumph in Seville.

As Rangers prepared for their third group game in that campaign, Steven Gerrard was in the final stages of his time in charge. In the interim, Rangers have had four permanent managers and two interim bosses, which illustrates the level of chaos that has ensued since the league title win in 2021.

Whether Philippe Clement is the man to restore stability and success remains to be seen, but he could scarcely have hoped for a better start as his side upped their energy levels in putting Hibernian to the sword on Saturday.

It was certainly an improved performance, but Clement was not about to allow the scoreline to disguise the need for further improvements to be made if domestic silverware and a prolonged European run are to be realistic.

The return of Todd Cantwell, even in a half-hour cameo, underlined his importance to the team, his movement, awareness and ability to pick a forward pass ensuring Rangers kept their momentum in the game and punished Hibs further.

The sooner Clement can also call upon fellow midfielder Tom Lawrence the better – his absence through injury was no help to Beale.

Forwards Sam Lammers and Cyriel Dessers have been among those most criticised for underwhelming contributions this season, yet there were signs on Saturday that perhaps Clement can entice more from each of them.

Dessers finally took his goal well, although his lack of confidence had been apparent earlier in the game, and Lammers was involved in a couple of the goals but still has much to do to prove why Beale was so keen to attract him to Ibrox.

Both will have further opportunity to endear themselves to Clement and the Rangers support on Thursday evening as they look to put the Aris result behind them.

Sparta Prague prepare at their training centre

Sparta Prague head coach Brian Priske could be without two key players

Will Birmancevic haunt Rangers again?

Sparta had to come from behind at home to beat the Cypriots but will likely provide an even sterner test than Aris considering they have a formidable home record this season.

They have been victorious in all six of their home games in the league as well as winning two and drawing one – 3-3 in a Champions League qualifier against Copenhagen – in Europe.

Having won the Czech League last season for the first time in nine years, they again sit top of the table, two points clear of city rivals Slavia and unbeaten after 12 games.

Rangers could be helped by the absence of two key players though. Top scorer Lukas Haraslin missed Sunday’s 4-0 win over Ceske Budejovice with a calf injury and may not recover in time.

Likewise, midfielder Ladislav Krejci, who gave away an early penalty against Aris but responded with two goals to turn the game round, was injured on international duty. Both players are important figures for Sparta’s Danish coach Brian Priske, who nevertheless will be able to call upon Serbian dangerman Veljko Birmancevic.

Rangers fans may remember him from the Champions League defeats by Malmo, in which he scored and set up Antonio Colak’s equaliser at Ibrox. He will have to be kept quiet if Rangers are to emerge with a positive result.

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