STEVEN GERRARD cheerfully admits to having struggled in his personal tussles with Villarreal star Santi Cazorla.
The Rangers manager faced the little Spaniard several times in matches between his old club, Liverpool, and Cazorla’s Arsenal, on more than one occasion being sent out under instruction to be sure to shut him down.
“He was murder to play against,” Gerrard said as he looked ahead to taking his team to Spain to face Cazorla’s current employers in Thursday night’s Europa League group action.
“Sometimes I did all right against him, others it didn’t go well.
“He was a top player. He had a very low centre of gravity and could manipulate the ball with either foot.
“Any player who played in the best Spanish side of all time deserves respect. He was a tough, tough player to play against.
“Not tough in terms of pressing you, getting in your face and being aggressive with you, but you go near him and he’ll pass it round you and he can make fun of you with either foot.
“I know he’s had his injuries problems of late but while he was at Arsenal he was very consistent and someone you had to really take care of when you played against him.
‘“Also someone who was a regular in Spain’s squad when you’re talking about names like Iniesta, Xavi, David Silva and Fabregas.
“He’s right in the mix with all the big hitters there, so he’s been a top footballer.”
Cazorla & Co. will warm up for the Rangers match with a La Liga clash with Leganes this morning.
And having lost twice and drawn once in their first three games, they will be looking for a positive result.
“We will have someone out there watching them, but we have managed to see quite a lot of them already,” said Gerrard.
“So we will have a game plan and the players will be well aware of the strengths and weaknesses.
“We hope they continue the form that they’ve been in and we’re not the game that they want to bounce back and want a reaction for. But we will have to wait and see.”
The Ibrox boss, meanwhile, hopes to see his team start where they left off against Celtic as opposed to the way they kicked off the derby.
“The Celtic game gave us two sides of Rangers in terms of the gauge. The first half showed that we didn’t have enough courage and belief to go and play when we won the ball back,” he said.
“After half-time, that’s the closer gauge I want to see. I thought we expressed ourselves, made it more of a contest.
“And the players came away disappointed that they didn’t show the real Rangers in the first 45.
“But if that’s Celtic at their best, then it was encouraging for us.”