Santi Cazorla believes Villarreal are peaking at the right time ahead of clash away at Rangers

Givent the fate suffered by two other Ibrox-bound managers in Europa League Group G this season, the future looked grim for Villarreal’s Javier Calleja.

Days before Rapid Vienna were due in Glasgow to face Rangers at the start of October, the Austrian club sacked Goran Djuricin.

A dire start to Rapid’s Bundesliga campaign, with just two wins in nine matches, ensured a grisly end for the under-fire boss.

Santi Cazorla and his Villarreal team-mates take on Rangers in the Europa League on Thursday

Santi Cazorla and his Villarreal team-mates take on Rangers in the Europa League on Thursday

His replacement, Dietmar Kuhbauer, could not prevent Rangers winning 3-1 as Ibrox welcomed back European group-stage football for the first time since 2010 in style.

Later that same month, the curse struck again as Spartak Moscow boss Massimo Carrera was relieved of his post while his team were preparing for their visit to Govan.

A dismal 3-2 home loss to Arsenal Tula, which had left Spartak languishing seventh in the Russian Premier League, had spelled the end for the Italian.

Spartak, under the temporary management of Raul Riancho, secured a 0-0 draw at Ibrox which, in turn, saw Rangers break a European club record of 11 matches unbeaten on the continent.

With struggling Villarreal due at Ibrox this Thursday night, it looked like Calleja was in line to complete a remarkable hat-trick of teams in crisis ahead of travelling to take on Steven Gerrard’s men.

For much of a troubled season, Calleja’s Yellow Submarine have occupied the murky depths of the lower end of La Liga.

Villarreal beat Real Betis 2-1 on Sunday to end a run of eight matches without a victory

Villarreal beat Real Betis 2-1 on Sunday to end a run of eight matches without a victory

Earlier this month, the dreaded vote of confidence in the manager was issued by the club’s board and the pressure was mounting daily.

Winless at home, Calleja’s side were eight matches without a victory ahead of last Sunday’s visit of Real Betis to Estadio de la Ceramica.

Betis had underlined their own credentials a fortnight earlier by beating the mighty Barcelona 4-3 at the Nou Camp.

But Villarreal secured a crucial 2-1 win, with the result propelling the team clear of the drop zone by three points before they turned their thoughts to a trip to Scotland.

Going into the penultimate round of games, Rangers, Spartak Moscow, Rapid Vienna and Villarreal can all still qualify for the Europa League knock-out stages in the new year.

But a win for the La Liga side – combined with a home victory for Spartak against Rapid in Moscow on Thursday night – would send Gerrard’s men tumbling out of the tournament.

The former Arsenal playmaker believes that Villarreal are peaking at the right time

The former Arsenal playmaker believes that Villarreal are peaking at the right time

Villarreal’s star man Santi Cazorla on Monday sent out a warning that he believes his side are peaking at the right time.

The former Spain and Arsenal attacker believes the Yellow Submarine are capable of holing Rangers’ European dreams below the waterline.

The 33-year-old said: ‘We hope that this victory (against Betis) will be a turning point for our season. We just had to beat them. There could be no more excuses. And I think for almost the first time this season, certainly in the league, we played a complete match for 90 minutes.

‘I felt we approached our best form and the important thing now is to keep the momentum going with a win in Glasgow.

‘We have set our standards and we have to keep them up in the Europa League now.’

The first group game between Rangers and Villarreal in Spain ended in a thrilling 2-2 draw in September.

Javier Calleja will be desperate for victory over Rangers to relieve pressure on his position

Javier Calleja will be desperate for victory over Rangers to relieve pressure on his position

The Ibrox side recovered from a nightmare start after going behind to a Carlos Bacca goal on 44 seconds. Scott Arfield equalised only for Gerard Moreno to give Villarreal the lead. But Kyle Lafferty struck late on to secure a deserved point.

As Villarreal head for the return in Glasgow, they are likely to be without £18million-rated midfielder Manu Trigueros, who limped off injured against Betis.

But there was plenty to be optimistic about in the game-changing performance of Cazorla.

The two-time European Championship winner, who missed his nation’s World Cup win in South Africa in 2010 through injury, set up both goals in the space of two minutes.

His stunning back heel allowed 19-year-old striker Samu Chukwueze to score what proved to be the winning goal.

Earlier, Cazorla had been the architect for Moreno’s opening goal.

Kyle Lafferty struck late on for Rangers to secure a draw against Villarreal in the reverse fixture

Kyle Lafferty struck late on for Rangers to secure a draw against Villarreal in the reverse fixture

After scoring his second La Liga strike of the season, £20m forward Moreno now travels to Glasgow with a huge weight off his shoulders.

‘When a striker does not score, it eats up inside his head,’ admitted the 26-year-old, whose side travel to the Nou Camp to face Barcelona on Sunday evening.

‘You become too eager to score. Now that I have finally scored again I can relax.

‘The whole club needed that win. The players, coaching staff and fans.

‘But as soon as the final whistle sounded, I turned my attention to Glasgow and what will be a very difficult game against Rangers.

‘We have a chance to take a huge step towards qualification on Thursday if we can win in Glasgow.

‘And if we play like we did against Betis, we are capable of getting the right result in Scotland.’

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