It appears that Villarreal have respect for Rangers ahead of their crucial Europa League group stage opener on Thursday.

The El Madrigal outfit certainly had a cocky star in goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, but Pablo Fornals isn’t taking the same approach. Instead, Asenjo’s Villarreal team-mate has been full of praise for Steven Gerrard’s Rangers.

Pablo Fornals is a regular at under-21 level for Spain (Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Whilst Asenjo spoke of how Villarreal and Spartak Moscow will probably go through, Fornals believes that group seeds mean nothing.

The Spaniard praised the work done by Rangers, and spoke highly of Gerrard as the new manager.

Speaking in the Daily Record, the key cog in Villarreal’s midfield had this to say about the Gers.

“Rangers have a great history in football and it will be a test for us from the start, but all the games in the group will be difficult.  Yes, we were the first seeds and Rangers were the fourth but there’s not a big difference between the clubs and Rangers have already had some good results in the competition.

“They are already in a routine of playing matches on Thursdays then going back to Scotland for their domestic competition.

 

“Rangers are going to be a very strong physical team and it will be a tough challenge for us.”

Difficult to read

The mood in the Villarreal camp is difficult to judge at this stage. Despite only winning one of their opening four La Liga matches, the yellow Submarine seem confident about their chances on Thursday.

When Rangers pitch up in Spain in a couple of days, it’s important not to think of Villarreal as the team of old. They’ve lost a host of good players since then and aren’t the intimidating quality-filled side they once were.

Santi Cazorla is one of the real threats on Thursday (David Aliaga/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It’s important to respect that they do have the likes of Santi Cazorla and Carlos Bacca in their ranks. But Rangers can feel confident that they’ll be able to compete at the very least.

It is, to an extent, a baptism of Europa League fire given it’s the Gers’ first group stage match since 2010 in Europe.

Fornals and Asenjo clearly have two different mind-sets heading into this first contest, but Rangers’ is more clear. Gerrard has already claimed that the Ibrox side won’t sit back and look to play for a point.

That’s far and away the best approach to have. Villarreal are vulnerable, and there’s no point in being in the competition just to be fearful.

It’ll be another big barometer of the progress made under Gerrard. We know how far he’s come with this side to an extent, but just how good can this Rangers side be?