Standing in the way of Rangers and a Champions League play-off spot is Malmo.

The Swedish champions host the first-leg of the side’s third-round Champions League Qualifier this evening, having beaten Riga and HJK Helsinki to set up the fixture.

Here, The Rangers Review looks back at their season to determine the threats they will pose and the weaknesses the Ibrox side may attempt to exploit.

How have Malmo fared this season?

In 2020, Malmo won their 21st Allsvenskan and currently sit a point off top spot midway through the 2021 campaign. They are Sweden’s most successful team, having won 14 Swedish Cups alongside their league honours.

Notably, in 13 league games this season they have conceded 16 goals. The league-high of 31 goals they’ve scored papers over some defensive issues which are evident upon watching them.

In the 20 games played so far in 2021, they’ve only kept four clean sheets. Stretching back to their 2020 league campaign, they averaged a goal against per game.

READ MORE: Analysis: Rangers 3-0 Livingston StatsBomb match report

What about in Europe you may ask?

Malmo defeated Riga 2-1 on aggregate in the first qualifying round before an equally tight 4-3 win over Helsinki earned them their place in today’s encounter.

Speaking about his side’s opponents yesterday at his press conference, Steven Gerrard said: “I think Malmo are an impressive team, very fit and work hard for the manager. It will be a big challenge for us but one that we are very excited about.

“I have watched a lot of Malmo in the last ten days and have been impressed with the fitness levels and work ethic, they can play with a four but also change to a back five so we have to be prepared for this. They can be very aggressive and press high at home.”

How are they expected to play?

As suggested by Gerrard, Rangers can expect to come up against an aggressive side with and without the ball this evening.

Malmo’s PPDA average over the two Champions League qualifiers played at home this season stands at a relatively low 5.82. They’ve not allowed the opposition long unopposed spells of possession and are comfortable pressing high.

Across these two matches, they also limited their opponents to an average of three shots on target and a possession share of just 29%, while racking up an xG of 2.19.

Malmo’s indexes in ties away from home against Helsinki and Riga suggests they won’t mirror an aggressive performance at Ibrox next week, if they have a result to hold onto.

They carried a lead into both away ties and endured nervy second-legs on both occasions. Holding onto an aggregate lead after Riga and Helsinki had equalised on the night.

Their PPDA average was 11.37 in these fixtures, they conceded a shot more on average than they took at 9.5 and also had a much higher xG against of 1.35.

What are some weaknesses Rangers can exploit?

We mentioned above that at the back, Malmo have weaknesses.

They also have a tendency this season to concede from crosses. Across the 17 matches they’ve played in the league and European qualifiers, they’ve conceded eight goals from crosses, four of which originated from set-pieces.

Given the quality of delivery Rangers boast, you wouldn’t be surprised to see goals arrive from wide areas. Furthermore, Gerrard’s side will be confident that they can get the better of their opponents at set-pieces, given their success from dead ball scenarios last season.

Additionally, this may be a game where we can see the increased pace and power that Rangers possess. With Scott Wright and Fashion Sakala adding to the threat posed in behind a backline, and John Lundstram bringing a dynamic ball-carrying central option, the Ibrox side may be able to exploit Malmo’s aggressive home approach in transition.

What do the experts say?

Former Rangers coach Tommy Moller-Neilsen told The Rangers Review the Swedes will be a threat.

He said: “It’s a very difficult place to go. First of all, it’s not so big, 22,000 people but it’s a real football stadium. It’s very tight so it’s easy to create a good atmosphere.

“I was there to see a European Qualifier there earlier in the season. There were only 4,800 people there but they managed to create a brilliant atmosphere. I know Rangers players are used to atmosphere, but they haven’t been used to it for a long, long time because of lockdown.

“That could give them, not a shock, but a different atmosphere. And Malmo have a very strong team. At the moment they are the best team in Scandanavia and they have some good players.

"They are in the middle of their season. You can train and train and train, play friendlies and qualifiers but nothing can compare to league games for fitness.

“They play hard and aggressive. They have a good team spirit. It will not be a walkover for sure."