Steven Davis faces the task of rousing Rangers following their weekend defeat by AberdeenEuropa League, Group C: Aris Limassol v RangersVenue: Alphamega Stadium, Kolossi Date: Thursday, 5 October Kick-off: 17:45 BSTCoverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland Extra/DAB/810MW, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app
Despite the unsettling nature of events in the days prior to their trip to Aris Limassol, Rangers go into Thursday evening’s match in the knowledge that victory in Cyprus would put them in an excellent position two games into their Europa League campaign.
The narrow but deserved win over Real Betis, who will be favourites to beat Sparta Prague at home in Group C’s other fixture, means Rangers could find themselves three points clear ahead of a double-header against the Czechs.
Much depends on how Rangers’ injury-ravaged squad reacts to manager Michael Beale’s dismissal and the interim appointment of Steven Davis.
The Northern Irishman comes across as quiet, unassuming and thoughtful, but his pedigree in the game will surely command the respect of a dressing room in which he has been a key figure over two spells as a player.
His immediate task is to lift a squad responsible for the club’s poorest start to a league season since Steven Gerrard’s first campaign in 2018.
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Beale spoke enthusiastically about his face-to-face meetings with players before signing them in the summer, wanting to look these potential signings in the eye and ensure that not only did they have the talent to play for Rangers but also the character required.
Those sentiments were reciprocated by Sam Lammers, Cyriel Dessers and Jose Cifuentes among others, each of whom gushed about Beale’s philosophy, his tactical plans, his vision.
Yet there have been only the briefest glimpses of any of that coming to fruition as the new signings have failed to live up to the billings afforded them by the man who brought them to Ibrox.
The key question is – can Davis, and indeed the new permanent manager when appointed, coax a performance out of those players, or are they simply not as good as Beale thought?
Rangers can scarcely afford another rebuild, having laid out a lot of money in the summer as well as now paying off two management teams within 12 months.
And, with so many of their better players missing (Tom Lawrence, Todd Cantwell, Nico Raskin), this match away to the Cypriot champions could prove a stern test for Davis and his team in their first match in charge.
Aris possess potency to hurt Rangers
Aris Limassol ran Sparta close in Prague on match day one
So what of Aris Limassol? Well, things are not going altogether swimmingly for them either off the back of their first-ever title win last season.
They lost to city rivals Apollon at the weekend, the third time they had dropped points in their opening six league fixtures.
In Europe for just the second time, having lost a Conference League qualifying tie against Neftci Baku last season, they also dropped down from the Champions League qualifiers before beating Slovan Bratislava to qualify for their first group stage.
They gave Sparta Prague a decent run for their money on the opening day before eventually losing 3-2 in the Czech capital, so it would be folly to presume Rangers are going to turn up and comfortably take care of business.
Aris’ recent upturn in fortunes came as a result of a takeover by Belarussian businessman Vladimir Fedorov, whose money has helped them become a serious force in Cypriot football.
His compatriot, 35-year-old Aleksey Shpilevsky, was brought in as head coach having won the league in Kazakhstan with Kairat, and promptly led Aris to their first title.
That triumph came with the help of star player Aleksandr Kokorin, who has what can only be described as a chequered history.
With 12 goals in 48 appearances for Russia, the 32-year-old is on loan for a second season from Fiorentina and has an impressive pedigree on the pitvh, as his 13 goals and player of the year accolade from last season underline.
But his time in a Russian jail for “hooliganism” paints a less impressive picture. He and another former international, Pavel Mamaev, were convicted of an attack on a government official.
Having served his time, though, he along with the Gabon winger Shavy Babicka and Slovakian midfielder Julius Szoke are players who could combine to make it a tough night to end a difficult week for Rangers.
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