Euro Football

Thomas Buffel sounds Rangers alarm over Standard Liege’s magician Mehdi Carcela as Ibrox hero makes Euro prediction

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Thomas Buffel has warned Rangers not to fall under the spell of Standard Liege’s Moroccan magician Mehdi Carcela in their Europa League group opener.

The former Light Blues playmaker picked out the Belgian side’s twinkle-toed No.10 as the main threat to their chances on Thursday night.

Steven Gerrard takes his side across the Channel for the clash in the Stade Maurice Dufrasne where Arsenal were forced to come from two goals down to salvage a draw in the same competition last season.

Rangers reached the last 16 of last season’s Europa League where they eventually fell to German giants Bayer Leverkusen.

They will be looking for a repeat of that run after an impressive play-off win over Galatasaray.

That saw them reach the group stage for the third successive season and they kick-off against Standard Liege who have qualified for the groups of Europe’s second-tier competition in four of the last five seasons.

Ex-Belgian international Buffel – who won the league and League Cup in two-and-a-half years at Ibrox – is confident Gers can claim victory but warned of the danger of Carcela.

The 22-times capped Moroccan international is in his third stint at the club after spells with Anzhi Makhachkala, Benfica and Granada.

A luxury player who is adored by the fans, Carcela has taken time to win over new boss Philippe Montanier but is now gaining the trust of the manager and getting back to his best.


And Buffel said of the 31-year-old: “Standard Liege’s star player is undoubtedly Carcela.

“If they can get him to produce his best on Thursday then he will be a real danger to Rangers.

“Although a Moroccan, he was born in Liege and has a real affinity with the club. That’s why the fans were upset when he wasn’t in the team at the start under the new manager.

“He also had a knee injury and the team was doing well so the coach didn’t want to change too much.

“But he is now featuring regularly, even if from the bench, and on his day is the best player at the club and also one of the best in the league.

“Carcela is very tricky, very skilful on the ball and has a great shot.

“He can conjure up real magic and amazing moments as you will see if you watch a goal he scored against Ajax in a Champions League qualifier two years ago.”

Standard Liege were fifth in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League after 29 games when it became the first of Europe’s top flight leagues to be
abandoned last season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Belgium World Cup goalkeeper and club legend Michel Preud’homme decided to step down and was succeeded by former Lens boss Montanier.

And the Frenchman, who was sacked after just seven months in charge of Nottingham Forest where he was succeeded by ex-Gers boss Mark Warburton, has made an impressive start at Standard Liege.

They defeated leaders Charleroi last week and sat just two points off top spot before last night’s clash with Club Brugge.

Now they will turn their attention to taking on Rangers

Michel Preud’homme

Buffel said: “Michel Preud’homme was in his third spell in charge and as a club legend everyone thought he would continue for a long time – but after two years he felt it was time to stop.

“He wasn’t sacked but they had to find another coach and Montanier was appointed who has started well this season.”

Montanier is trying to put his stamp on the side and Buffel believes he has plenty of promising talent to work with.

Belgium has produced some top-class players in recent years and the Standard squad boasts kids who could make it big at the highest levels of the game.

Buffel said: “ They have a young team just now with some promising players such as Zinho Vanheusden who made his full international debut for Belgium in a friendly against Ivory Coast last week.

“He is only 21 and is back at the club after leaving for Inter Milan as a 16-year-old, who then loaned him to Standard Liege who bought him back last season.

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“Vanheusden has been captain many times and they have other good young players such as Belgium’s Under-21 keeper Arnaud Bodart.”

Hearts were Standard Liege’s first ever continental opponents in 1958 when they met in a European Cup qualifier and they defeated Rangers three years later in the quarter-finals of the same competition.

The Belgians’ best success came when they lost in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup to Barcelona the year before Aberdeen lifted the trophy in 1983 and they have also met the Dons and Dundee United in Europe.

Buffel said: “They have a great history but they haven’t won the league for 11 years. They have a nice stadium which is intimidating in normal circumstances when it’s full.

“I feel Rangers are the favourites. They have a good mix of experience and promising talent and they have the edge in terms of power and experience which can be an advantage in European football.”




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