By now the dust has settled a little on Rangers’ Europa League draw with supporters everywhere researching whatever they can on Czech rivals Slavia Prague.
The Gers will face off against the side which conquered Brendan Rodgers’ Champions League-chasing Leicester City with most fans well aware that these guys are no mugs.
But for some on the continent – and much like Rangers – Slavia are one of the dark horses for this competition and this represents an enthralling contest between two talented teams.
Some Celtic fans have eyed Slavia’s manager Jindřich Tripišovský for vacant role
Managed by the unconventional, cap-wearing Jindřich Tripišovský, the young coach has been in charge at Slavia since 2017 and has helped mould them into European regulars.
The manager has also been mentioned by some as a potential replacement for Neil Lennon at Celtic if our Old Firm rivals take a creative approach to their next appointment.
Not only that, but Slavia also have a stand at their Sinobo Stadium named after an ex-Celtic player in Johnny Madden, who managed them in the early 1900s.
Since 2017 Tripišovský has guided the Prague side to this very tournament’s quarter-finals in 18/19, narrowly losing out to Premier League Chelsea and scoring three goals at Stamford Bridge in a thrilling 4-3 second leg.
They’d lose the first one 1-0.
The following season Tripišovský took Slavia one further into the Champions League but it was a step too far as they failed to register a win in a troublesome group of Inter, Dortmund and Barcelona.
Not to be underestimated on the road
They did however manage a draw in the San Siro and the Nou Camp, which combined with the Chelsea result is a hint that they’re certainly not to be underestimated at Ibrox.
Similarly, their 2-0 win at the King Power Stadium shows that they can find form on the road with the side dumping Premier League opposition in the Last 32.
However, this season Slavia missed out on the Champions League by being resoundingly beaten by familiar Euro foes FC Midtjylland of Denmark, courtesy of a 4-1 thrashing on the road.
Rangers played that FC Midtjylland side last season, beating them comfortably 7-3 over two legs – perhaps something we’ll take heart from heading into the tie.
Not only that, but Hapoel be’er Sheva beat them comfortably during the group stages whilst Bayer Leverkusen even thumped them 4-0.
The other side in their group – French outfit Nice – were dumped home and away in an impressive set of results against an admittedly struggling side.
Similarities with Rangers striking
Domestically Slavia – like Rangers – are dominant, currently leading the Czech First League by eight points with Celtic’s group stage conquerors Sparta Prague 2nd, whom they’ve pipped to the last two titles.
They’re 20 games unbeaten in the league and are on a fine run of form, similarly to Rangers where their mixture of experience, heart, ability and talent have formed them into one of Europe’s most exciting, emerging sides.
They’ve also built their domestic form on a strong defence which has only leaked 12 goals this season, something which mirrors the situation at Rangers, with Slavia expected to be a disciplined, hard-to-beat, physical side.
Against Leicester, the experienced Ondřej Kúdela, 33, formed a strong partnership with 20-year-old David Zima but they have other defensive options in one-time Rangers linked Simon Deli [Daily Record]
Slavia Prague have a heart of Czech stars with attacker Jan Kutcha an influential player whilst Romanian international Nicolae Stanciu may be a familiar name to some.
Nigerian striker Peter Olayinka is an influential presence upfront but they have an explosive teenage Senagalese forward in Abdallah Sima who is their top scorer and talisman this season (19 in 28).
There’s pace, power and ability in this side – as you can see from Sima’s finish v Leicester below – and that’s something we’re going to have to match to get through the tie.
The two on paper at least feel evenly matched and this promises to be amongst the stiffest and most nerve-wracking of all the tests we’ve faced in Europe under Steven Gerrard.
That hasn’t stopped Rangers fans getting buzzed for the tie as they look forward to facing off against Slavia in a fortnight’s time.