Rangers warned over suffocating Antwerp high press

The European stage was the only downside to an otherwise perfect year for Kevin Muscat in a campaign of Treble success at Rangers.

But the Aussie is convinced this can be a season to remember on both fronts for Steven Gerrard and his history-making squad.

Muscat though has fired a warning to his old club that they face a tough task to overcome Royal Antwerp in their Europa League last-32 clash.

The 47-year-old is still based in Belgium as he waits for his next managerial chance following a year at Sint-Truiden where he was in charge until he left a couple of months ago.

Muscat faced Gers’ Euro rivals at the start of this season, going down 3-2 at home to a last-gasp goal and keeps a close eye on the Jupiler Pro League.

Antwerp, sitting second in the table just now, have undergone big changes with three-time Belgian League winner and former Anderlecht boss Franky Vercauteren replacing Ivan Leko who moved to China.

(Image: Photonews via Getty Images)

Muscat gave Record Sport the lowdown on the men who stand in the way of Gers and a place in the last-16 as they look to go all the way to Gdansk in May.

Gerrard’s men beat Benfica to top spot in their group and defeated Standard Liege – whom Antwerp drew 1-1 with on Sunday – both home and away.

Antwerp are without star striker Didier Lamkel Ze who is banned but Muscat knows they have plenty of other dangermen.

He was part of Alex McLeish’s Treble-winning squad 18 years ago after recovering from Euro humiliation at the start of that season when they were sent crashing out of the UEFA Cup at the first hurdle by Viktoria Zizkov.

But as Gerrard’s men romp towards a first title in a decade, Muscat said: “What Rangers have done in Europe under Steven Gerrard has been remarkable and it’s been a pleasure to watch from afar.

“The results in Europe have been great but they’ve come from the consistency of the league results and given them the confidence to go into Europe.

“What has held them in good stead has been scoring freely but they’ve been able to marry that with being stubborn defensively.

“But Royal Antwerp are a better team than Standard Liege. They played really well against Spurs in the group stage and beat them in Belgium but have since changed manager.

“They started the season really well but had a dip around the time there was some noise about the manager leaving but Vercauteren has won virtually every game since he replaced Ivan Leko.

“They are a powerful team and I don’t just mean that in size. They have a lot of workrate and they’re physical, not just in stature but in the way they play the game with a lot of energy.

“Rangers should expect them to really press high and they have the capabilities physically to do it for long periods as they are a very hardworking team sprinkled with some quality.

“Rangers will come under some pressure with and without the ball so if they can see out those initial periods and stay strong then that will be key.

“They’ve maintained a three at the back – or five depending on how you look at it – and they have a couple of very good attacking players in the team.

“Israeli international Lior Refaelov and Pieter Gerkens are the two creative players in midfield who make things happen. They’ve been very good in terms of scoring and setting up goals.

(Image: Getty Images)

“The left wing-back is a familiar name in Jordan Lukaku and he’s a very quick, strong and powerful runner who delivers quite a few balls into the box and Rangers will have viewed him and need to cut out the supply from him.

“When we played them at the start of the season we were at home and played very well and gave as good as we got. Their winner came in injury time directly from a free-kick which was a sickener.

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“Simen Juklerod scored twice that day and he was playing as a left wing-back but hasn’t featured as much recently as his place has been taken by Lukaku. Their back three – Abdoulaye Seck, Ritchie De Laet and Jeremy Gelin – are big, powerful strong boys so they’re more than equipped to handle any physical challenge.”

Muscat was no shrinking violet himself as a player and earned a reputation as a hardman during his career which saw him move to Ibrox on a free from Wolves.

Such was his reputation for a fiery temper, McLeish refused to play him in Old Firm derbies but he featured 29 times, including the Scottish Cup final win over Dundee, to seal the Treble.

A successful spell as manager of Melbourne Victory followed later and earned Muscat a crack at Europe. Now he would be open to a return to Scotland as a boss.

Rangers FC

He said: “Scotland would appeal because I enjoyed my time there. I reflect on my time at Rangers with great fondness.

“When you get to this stage in your life you start to appreciate different things and looking back I really appreciate the people of Glasgow and Rangers.

“I still keep in touch with quite a few boys, Craig Moore obviously, and I got back for the Betfred Cup Final when Rangers were exceptional but unfortunately the result didn’t reflect that.

“I’ve been working in Europe for the last year and if an opportunity ever came up in Scotland of course I’d explore it.”

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