Rangers boss Giovanni Van Bronckhorst heads into the biggest challenge of his Ibrox reign reeling from a fresh injury blow to winger Tom Lawrence.
The 28-year-old Welshman was close to the end of his recovery from a knee problem which has kept him out since August but has sustained a new issue in training ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League trip to Liverpool which may keep him sidelined until after the World Cup.
It will not impact the player’s chances of going to Qatar as he has not featured for the national team since March 2021 but it is a blow for Rangers as the summer signing from Derby had begun well, having scored three times in the five matches before being injured.
“Tom Lawrence’s recovery went on schedule but he sustained a new injury this week,” said the Rangers boss.
“We have to wait to see how long he’ll be out but it will be longer term. Probably more months than weeks. I don’t think we’ll have him back before the World Cup.”
While Lawrence would not have been in consideration for Anfield it is not the news Van Bronckhorst would have wanted to hear heading into a game of huge significance as Rangers are still searching for their first Champions League point in 12 years.
There is also plenty riding on the game for the hosts, who need a confidence-boosting performance to enhance their chances of making the knockout stages.
And despite Liverpool’s current inconsistent form Van Bronckhorst believes Jurgen Klopp’s side present their biggest test since he took charge, and that includes their run to the Europa League final last season.
“It’s going to be very difficult. They have been in three finals in the last five years and are still one of the best teams in Europe,” he added.
“Of all our opponents we faced last season and this season probably this is the best side.”
Rangers do, at least, arrive at their first meeting with Liverpool at an opportune moment.
A 3-3 draw at home to Brighton highlighted some of the problems Klopp’s side have been facing this season and Van Bronckhorst hopes to be able to take advantage.
“Of course there are always things to exploit, any team has those areas you can exploit,” he said.
“Although they didn’t have a good result last Saturday we are still going to prepare for the best Liverpool team tomorrow.
“They have all the strengths to perform at this level. Form means nothing, they have a good team and a fantastic coach.”
Van Bronckhorst said he had no doubts about the enduring quality of fellow Dutchman Virgil van Dijk but hoped he has another bad game at Anfield.
The Netherlands captain, who is set to play at his first major tournament when the World Cup kicks off next month, has come under scrutiny for his club form but his compatriot does not believe it is part of a wider problem for the centre-back.
“I love Virgil. I’m very proud of the way he has performed for all his clubs but also the national team,” said the Rangers boss.
“He’s the captain and is a true leader. He is a fantastic player.
“Everyone can have a bad game or spell, but the backing he gets from his coach is amazing. You always need that in those moments.”