Bayer Leverkusen and Rangers meet in the Europa League Round of 16 at BayArena on Thursday evening, just shy of five months after the pair played out a thriller at Ibrox in the first leg.
The German Bundesliga fifth-place finishers enjoy home advantage over Steven Gerrard's side and also benefit from an aggregate lead, looking to protect a 3-1 cushion from Glasgow. The hosts are hot favourites in the betting to win this match and progress to the next stage, but Gers have shown this season it's unwise to write them off.
Leverkusen blast Bears
Bayer Leverkusen were impressive in Govan on 12 March when blasting their way to a 3-1 first leg lead. The Bundesliga side showed their class when going ahead through a Kai Havertz first-half penalty that was awarded after a VAR check. That spot kick separated the teams until Charles Aranguiz smashed home a second on 67 minutes.
The Gers were on the ropes but threw themselves a lifeline when defender George Edmundson nodded home a pinpoint cross delivered from the boot of his captain. A third on 88 minutes from Leon Bailey restored Bayer's two-goal lead. Having dominated the match possession stats at the home of their opponents it was nothing short of what Leverkusen deserved on the night and they are now in a commanding position.
Since beating Rangers, Peter Bosz and co returned to league action on 18 May with a 4-1 away win over Werder Bremen, proving they lost none of their goal scoring prowess in lockdown. Strong wins over Borussia Monchengladbach and Freiburg followed that month but the Company's Eleven blew their chance at a top four finish. Two wins in their final five league games saw Bayer end two points behind Monchengladbach but they did sign off with a 1-0 home win over Mainz.
Gers beat Dons for winning start
The 2019/20 Scottish Premiership season was cut short due to the coronavirus emergency and resulting UK lockdown. League placings were settled on an average points-per-game basis which left the blues second behind Celtic. The top flight of Scottish football did return at the weekend and Rangers opened their account with a hard-fought win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie to bring the curtain up on what will be a crucial 2020/21 campaign for Gerrard and his men.
Beating Dons in the Granite City is no mean feat but Rangers were worthy winners of the points on Saturday, warming up for their trip to Germany with a 1-0. Former Liverpool attacker Ryan Kent scored the only goal of the game when racing free to slot past Joe Lewis on 21 minutes. In what was a typically bad-tempered match involving Aberdeen and Rangers, Andrew Considine was sent off late in the contest for a reckless lunge on Scott Arfield.
It has already been an exciting week for followers of Rangers with the club making a sensational double signing swoop. Former Leeds United striker Kemar Roofe moved from Anderlecht and was joined by St Gallen forward Cedric Itten, both agreeing four-year contracts. Neither man will be eligible to play on Thursday but Gerrard told members of the press the arrival of two attackers on the same day is a signal of intent from his club.
Fancy Gerrard's men to pull off another stunning Europa League win? Rangers are a chunky 5.50 to win the match regardless of if they qualify for the next round or not. A level finish would suit the hosts more than their visitors and the draw is 4.20.
Stats support goals
The first leg gave us a total of four goals and it's worth noting half of Bayer Leverkusen's last four games have produced four goals or more. Over 3.5 goals in this game trades at 2.58 with under the same number a 1.55 option, both on the Exchange.
Those confident in the favourite's ability to finish Rangers off with a convincing second leg victory may be interested in the handicap betting. Leverkusen -1 goal is 2.70 or there's -2 handicap at an appealing 5.10. Both teams have scored in each of the previous three meetings of these teams and this renewal is expected to fall into line.