Callum Davies

What: UEFA Champions League Qualifying Third Round (second-leg)
Who: Malmö FF vs Rangers
When: Wednesday 3rd August 2011, at 18:00 UK Time
Where: Swedbank Stadion, Malmö, Sweden

Theirs to lose

After a 1-0 first leg victory at a hostile Ibrox, thanks to Daniel Larsson’s emphatic strike, Malmö have a firm grip on this tie. Lying ninth in the Allsvenskan after a stuttering 2011 campaign in which they have won just four of their last 14 games, the Blues put in an away performance which was in stark contrast to their league form.

While it is true the Swedish champions have struggled to maintain the standards set last season, winning only their second Swedish league title in 22 years, for prolonged periods in Glasgow Rickard Norling’s side looked the more comfortable. With the fleet-footed Larsson playing as the lone striker, Malmö’s five-man midfield consistently bombarded Rangers’ defence with intricate passing and fast breaks, to which the home side had no answer.

It would be fair to say that, from a Malmö point of view, the hard work is done. After all, away games in the Champions League at any stage are notoriously difficult. Despite that, at times in the first leg, the Swedish champions dominated and could have come away with a greater margin of victory if it had not been for the fine shot-stopping abilities of Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor. Larsson praised Norling’s strategy after the victory, commenting: “Defensively and tactically, it couldn’t have gone much better for us”, but also warned his team-mates against second-leg complacency by adding: “We will have to work hard and prepare mentally because we know they will come at us with everything they’ve got next week.”

Rewriting history

In reply to their below par performance against Malmö, Rangers provided new manager Ally McCoist with a welcome victory on Saturday at St Johnstone to open their Scottish Premier League account. Even more promising for McCoist, two of last season’s key men, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith, were both on target in the win. Undoubtedly Rangers will certainly have their work cut out at the Swedbank Stadion and McCoist has to do what no other Rangers manager has done before and overturn a first-leg deficit to win a European tie. But on paper the task appears less daunting.

With a talented squad that amassed 88 league goals last season, scoring comes naturally to the Scottish champions at domestic level. This however, has not yet transpired in Europe, especially in the club’s last two European campaigns where goals have been few and far between. Key to Rangers success is Naismith, and if he is allowed freedom to operate closely behind the two strikers, McCoist’s men may have a chance of salvaging something.

There is no shying away from the fact also that this game is crucial not only for the club financially, but for McCoist himself. Rangers is his first experience at the helm of a football club, and it would be perceived as a disaster by many fans should his first act be failure to qualify for Europe’s top competition.

Recent form

Malmo FF:
Helsingborgs 2–2 Malmö FF (23/07; Allsvenskan)
Rangers 0-1 Malmo FF (26/07; Champions League)
HB Torshavn 1-1 Malmo FF (19/07; Champions League)

Rangers 1–1 Hearts (23/07; Scottish Premier League)
Rangers 0-1 Malmo FF (26/07; Champions League)
St Johnstone 0–2 Rangers  (30/07; Scottish Premier League)

Key absences

Malmö: Johan Dahlin; Ulrich Vinzents; Armin Nazari; Jasmin Sudic

Rangers: David Weir (doubt); Kyle Lafferty

Players to watch

Malmo – Daniel Larsson: Rangers will have bad memories of a certain Swedish striker named Larsson, but in this 24-year-old, Malmö have a true gem. The versatile, pacey winger-turned-striker caused Rangers an assortment of problems at Ibrox and with a tally of ten goals and ten assists in last season’s Allsvenskan, he will undoubtedly play a key role at the Swedbank Stadion.

Rangers – Steven Naismith: Rangers’ talisman. The tough forward has a knack for turning up in the right place at the right time and was the catalyst for all things good throughout last season. He had a quiet game by his standards at Ibrox, but the 24-year-old will be hoping to set the record straight with his belligerent style of football, which has won over many of the Rangers fans.

Match Prediction

It is no secret that Rangers are yet to reach their optimum performance levels under Ally McCoist, and with the Scots’ demoralising form away from home in European competitions, it will be a difficult task for them to walk away with a win in Malmö.

The Swedish champions on the other hand will aim to play with a similar intensity to the first leg in Glasgow and could trouble Rangers once again going forward with the pace of Larsson and Agon Mehmeti. All aspects considered, Rangers will fight stoically to remain in the game, but it is difficult to see how they will find a way through the well-organised Malmö defence. Therefore, expect a draw which will deny the Glaswegians the chance to redeem themselves and rewrite their own history books. Malmö 0-0 Rangers.

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