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Smith's Rangers can take big step against Valencia

Rangers FC manager Walter Smith tells UEFA.com why Wednesday's Group C fixture with Valencia CF could prove "vital" to their hopes of European football after Christmas.

Walter Smith believes Rangers have a better balance in Europe this term
Walter Smith believes Rangers have a better balance in Europe this term ©Getty Images

Rangers FC manager Walter Smith believes Wednesday's Group C fixture against Valencia CF will prove decisive in terms of securing European football for the Ibrox club after Christmas.

The Light Blues have got off to an impressive start with four points from their first two UEFA Champions League fixtures against Manchester United FC and newcomers Bursaspor thanks largely to the deployment of a flexible 5-4-1 formation. Having conceded ten goals in their three home games last season, the use of three centre-backs and two attacking full-backs has provided a better balance and allowed Smith to approach games in Europe's elite tournament with renewed confidence.

"We couldn't be happier with the way it's started," Smith told UEFA.com. "Trying to achieve a proper balance between attacking and defending is something we've struggled to do in this competition in recent years. We more or less defended for the entire game against United and I was a little disappointed that we didn't do better in terms of overall possession of the ball at Old Trafford. We managed to do that better at home against Bursaspor, so it's a formation that allows us to get a better balance from the way we played in previous Champions League campaigns."

In his final year as manager, Smith insists United, under his old friend Sir Alex Ferguson, are the clear favourites to progress to the knockout stages, leaving Rangers and Valencia to fight it out for second spot. The 62–year-old is too wily to look beyond Wednesday's fixture but acknowledges that any kind of result against one of the Liga's early pacesetters would almost certainly guarantee a passport to the latter stages of the UEFA Europa League. It is, though, a place in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 which he really craves.

"It would be fantastic for us to qualify for the latter stages of the Champions League considering we've hardly bought a player for two years," Smith added. "Having said that, we got off to a similar start a few years ago when we beat Lyon 3-0 away which was a fantastic result for us, but then they came here and won 3-0. The Champions League is an unforgiving environment but the next game is vital for us in terms of European football in the new year. If, and it's a big if, we could manage to beat Valencia at home, I think that would go a long way to securing some kind of European football after January."