STEVEN GERRARD insists Europa League last-16 rivals Bayer Leverkusen are among the favourites to win the trophy.
Rangers’ reward for overcoming Portuguese outfit Braga home and away for a 4-2 aggregate success is a glamour tie against the Bundesliga cracks who are fifth in the top flight.
The first leg will be at Ibrox on March 12 and the return leg a week later with Gerrard’s men hosting Celtic in the derby encounter in between.
The German aces walloped Porto, who won Gers’ qualifying group, home and away 5-2 on aggregate and the performance clearly impressed the Govan gaffer.
Gerrard, speaking to Sky Sports News, said: “I think they are one of the favourites. The way they have dealt with Porto, I think they deserve to be one of the favourites.
CAPITAL CONCERNS…Steven Gerrard yells instructions in the 2-1 loss at Tynecastle last month.
“Ever since I made my debut, my experience of playing against German players and German teams is that they are always tough, big strong athletes who are tactically astute.
“It is exciting, but it is going to be very tough.”
Gerrard’s Liverpool side beat Leverkusen on their way to Champions League success in 2005 and he added: “I know their stadium, it is a fantastic stadium. I have played there and experienced it and it can be an exciting place to go, real close to the pitch.
“The atmosphere is electric there, it is not a huge stadium, but it is real close to the pitch and German fans all around the stadium, so it will be a good challenge for the players.”
The Ibrox manager’s immediate concern, of course, is this evening Scottish Cup quarter-final meeting with Hearts at Tynecastle, where they lost 2-1 after the turn of the year to shed three vital Premiership points.
RYAN OUT LOUD…£7million man Ryan Kent has the Rangers fans cheering with the opening goal against Hearts last month.
It was an unhappy 100th game in charge for Gerrard as he was on the end of some capital punishment against Daniel Stendel’s strugglers.
Interestingly, the Jambos have won each of their last three Scottish Cup matches against Rangers in Edinburgh.
Gerrard added: “The only thing we have to prove is that the real Rangers are there for the challenge because I was pretty strong in my assessment of the last 90 minutes there and that I didn’t recognise the performance.
“Hearts have beaten us once, they’re a good team and we respect them, but more often than not we’ve gone there and we’ve shown the real Rangers and got the outcome we’ve wanted.
“Hopefully, the real Rangers will turn up and if we do I’m confident we’ll be okay.”