IT was the issue that Steven Gerrard identified at the outset and the one that he has spent little time, but the most money, to rectify this season.

On the biggest night of his managerial career so far, he won’t rely solely on his new-look Rangers defence, though. He trusts them, but he won’t overburden them in Maribor.

The back five of Allan McGregor, James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic and Jon Flanagan has been the foundation upon which Gerrard has built this term.

It is the unit that has got Rangers to the Europa League third qualifying round and the one that, in an ideal world, he would select in the Stadion Ljudski this evening.

With Flanagan suspended, Andy Halliday is poised to fill-in at left-back as Rangers look to finish what they started in style at Ibrox last Thursday and move to within one tie of the group stages.

The Gers arrived in Slovenia yesterday afternoon with a 3-1 lead to their credit and the supporters that make the trip will be in two minds over how they want to see Gerrard’s side shape-up.

A fourth goal in the tie would be a significant step forward but Maribor, fresh from a 5-2 win over Aluminij at the weekend, have already shown they are more than capable of causing problems of their own.

“We will be tested at certain times,” Gerrard said. “They are a good team with good players who, given time and space, can hurt you.

“We’ll have a gameplan to try and nullify as many of their threats as we can. Hopefully can put in a strong performance defensively.

“We are not coming here to defend for 90 minutes. We are not coming in with the attitude of looking for a draw.

“We are coming here to win the game. That’s not to say we are going to go crazy, go gung-ho and take all kinds of unnecessary risks.

“Our gameplan will involve trying to defend with a good, strong performance but carrying a threat as well.”

Rangers have shown both sides of their game in the first two rounds as Shkupi and Osijek have been taken care of. Maribor are their toughest test yet, though.

The Gers have the personnel and mentality to set their stall out and stifle their Slovenian hosts but Gerrard has attacking ambitions for his side as well.

He said: “I don’t think when you are the Rangers manager you can go into any game with the attitude of ‘We’re just going to defend and see if we can scrape through.’

“We have to carry a mentality that we are a big club and we need to come here and play like a big team.

“We’ve got ambitions of playing in the Europa League and we can’t be coming to every away venue and saying “Now it’s time to defend for 90 minutes, lads”.

“We come here to win the game. We’ve proven that we have caused this team many problems with our positivity and being ambitious with our forward play.

“At certain times in the game, when it allows us, we want to see that positivity again.”

Victory in Slovenia this evening would go down as the most important and impressive of Gerrard’s short managerial career to date.

Darko Milanic’s side looked threatening in spells during a competitive first leg and Rangers won’t take Maribor lightly second time around.

Gerrard said: “I think they’re a good team. It’s very difficult to compare them to domestic teams. They carry a similar threat to Osijek.

“They have got match-winners in their team. They like to get bodies forward.

“But at the same time we have noticed that there are areas of their team that we can exploit. As good as they are, we do feel that we will get some opportunities in this game. If we can take them, we will qualify.

“We will pick a team with enough talent and enough of a goal threat to go and get an important goal for us. I will never ever pick a team that is just about solidarity and defending and hanging in there. I don’t think that’s the right way.”

Like Maribor, Rangers are returning to continental competition with a spring in their step following a domestic weekend victory.

The Gers saw off St Mirren on Sunday as Gerrard recorded his first Premiership win as Light Blues boss and he will bid for a maiden League Cup triumph against Kilmarnock on his return to Glasgow.

The challenges keep on coming for Rangers. Gerrard is confident they can continue to be overcome.

He said: “I think the thing for me that pleases me most is that people are itching to play, they are itching for chances and they are showing me in training every day that they want to be in the eleven and that is healthy for the football club.

“I have shown already that there is going to be changes, especially if the games are coming Sunday, Thursday, Sunday, Thursday because it is not fair to just pick eleven players and expect them to perform to the best of their ability. People will have to share the load.

“I won’t be one of these people that makes wholesale changes for the sake of it, I won’t do that. But everyone needs to be ready.”

While Gerrard and his players are focusing on the job in hand and the 90 minutes ahead, supporters are already daring to dream about a return to the Europa League group stages.

Russian outfit Ufa or familiar foes Progres Niederkorn lie in wait at the next stage but the Gers only have eyes for Maribor at present.

Gerrard said: “I can understand the fans looking far down the line. I have done it myself as a fan of Liverpool. In certain tournaments, I am ‘imagine this’, imagine that’. I get that.

“I understand it all, but as a manager and the leader of this team, it is important for me to keep my players focused on the now. It is a very, very dangerous game to play if you start looking too far ahead.”