Kick-off: 19:45 (BST)
Walter Smith’s admits that the prospect of facing Barcelona in back-to-back Group E fixtures is as tough a challenge as he has faced in two spells as Rangers manager.
Like Barcelona, the Scottish outfit have got off to the perfect start with Champions League wins against Stuttgart and Lyon. Yet the manager knows his team face a step up in quality against the 2006 European champions, comparing them with the Juventus side of 1995-96 that beat Rangers 4-1 and 4-0 en route to lifting the trophy against Ajax in Rome.
“I think it will be equal to the games we played against Juventus during my first spell at the club,” said Smith.
“They were a formidable side. Juventus were a different type of team from Barcelona in that they were more powerful, but they were every bit as effective. Barcelona are one of the favourites, if not the favourites, to win the Champions League, but there’s no reason why we can’t be competitive against them.”
Rangers go into the match on the back of Saturday’s confidence-boosting 3-0 defeat of arch-rivals Celtic, but Smith refuses to dwell on that result.
“You can’t read too much into those results,” counselled Smith, who confirmed he will be without holding midfielder Brahim Hemdani (groin) and striker Jean-Claude Darcheville (hamstring). “We beat Lyon in our last game then lost against Hibernian, so you can’t equate the weekend’s results with how this game will go.”
Asked how to cope with Barcelona’s galaxy of stars, Smith admitted that he is “trying not to think about them” while also highlighting the danger posed by former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry.
“For me, he is one of the best forwards in the world,” said Smith. “People say he’s not playing as well as he was at Arsenal, but you have to remember regardless of what level of player you are, you always need time to settle down. He’s a fantastic player and any team would be fortunate to have him.”
Despite the presence of so many star names Barcelona have a lengthy casualty list with playmaker Deco the latest to join Samuel Eto’o, Yaya Toure, Gianluca Zambrotta, Edmilson and Rafael Marquez on the sidelines, meaning coach Frank Rijkaard is likely to deploy Eidur Gudjohnsen in a midfield role at Ibrox.
“Gudjohnsen is an important player – he can make passes and score goals,” said the Dutchman.
Rijkaard has identified Barry Ferguson as the man to watch in the Rangers team. “Ferguson has been playing a long time for Rangers and represents their spirit and mentality,” he said. “This is the most important game so far for both clubs. It will be tough and we will have to fight to win.”