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Gerrard’s Rangers thumped by Liverpool U-23’s in first half “embarrassment”

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Steven Gerrard was left red-faced after a squad of first-team fringe players fell behind 4-0 in the first half of a closed-door friendly against the Liverpool U-23 side.

While Rangers came back in the second half to secure a 4-4 draw, Gerrard will use the opening 45 minutes to weed out some players who are struggling. “First half was an embarrassment and the second half was fantastic,” Gerrard said of the match. “It was a very useful exercise for different reasons but in terms of us as staff, we learnt so much about the players individually.”

The former Liverpool star said that he was frustrated by the players he felt needed game time, but praised four young teenagers who came on for the second half and turned the game around. While officially the players were unnamed, reports on social media say Dapo Mebude, Kai Kennedy, Josh McPake, and Glenn Middleton – all 17 or 18 years old – came on for the second half and made an impact, with Mebude scoring a brace plus goals from McPake and Middleton to lead the comeback.

When asked about the purpose for holding the match, Gerrard explained that fitness was a key component, but admitted that some first-team players were participants in the first-half drubbing. “Well I think it’s a few different reasons really,” Gerrard said to the club’s official video channel. “The first was to give people game-time who haven’t played as much. We want to try and keep them as sharp and as fit as possible for the run-in. And the other reason was to have a look at some young talent that had been doing really well in the Reserves or the 18s and give them an opportunity to be around the first-team lads and see how they can cope playing against good players at Ibrox.”

Gerrard said that he learned a lot from the match, which could be ominous for the players who were on the field in the first 45 minutes. “It was a very useful game. I probably learned more in that 90 minutes about the players than I have done all season because it was a game of two halves.”

Rangers sit second in the Scottish Premiership table, nine points behind rivals Celtic with four matches to go. Liverpool’s U-23 side has the chance to finish as high as second in the Premier League 2 table with one match remaining, behind Everton who was already confirmed as champions.

PL Sunday Preview: Liverpool host Chelsea; Man City visit Crystal Palace

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In what may be Liverpool’s toughest remaining league match of the season, the Reds host the Blues of Chelsea in an epic matchup between two big six sides. Chelsea will be looking to spoil Liverpool’s title hopes yet again. It was Chelsea and Demba Ba who pounced on Steven Gerrard‘s slip in midfield which led to Liverpool losing the title in 2014.

Liverpool v. Chelsea — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool took care of business last week early against Porto, and with a 2-0 lead, it may allow manager Jurgen Klopp to focus more of his attention on one of the biggest games of the season against Chelsea. When these teams met earlier in the season, Chelsea recorded a 1-1 draw in the Premier League and a 2-1 win in the League Cup. More than Manchester City, Chelsea may be Liverpool’s bogey team. The Reds haven’t beaten Chelsea in six games, dating back to 2016.

One of Liverpool’s big boosts heading into the match is the return of the marauding Scottish left wing back Andrew Robertson. That should allow James Milner to either return to midfield or take a place on the bench, where he can make a second-half impact with fresh legs. In addition, Joe Gomez is available after a long injury layoff while Adam Lallana is expected to take part as well. But it will be up to the likes of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to break down Chelsea’s backline and secure a massive three points to stay alive for the title.

An interesting little facet of this game is that it will come minutes after the end of Manchester City’s match at Crystal Palace. Liverpool and Chelsea’s players will know if Man City has taken back the lead in the table, or whether Liverpool can extend its lead at the top.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: None | Chelsea — OUT: None

Crystal Palace v. Manchester City — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Before Thursday’s defeat to Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City hadn’t lost a match since a 2-1 loss at Newcastle at the end of January. Now, Pep Guardiola heads back to London for the second time in a week looking to remain in the title hunt.

With Liverpool keeping pace at the top, Man City can’t afford a slip on on the road, but Roy Hodgson and his side will be hoping to pick up at least a point at Selhurst Park. Unsurprisingly, Crystal Palace has struggled against the Big Six sides this season, with the exception a 3-2 win….at Manchester City. Andros Townsend‘s world-class strike helped to prove the difference. Could Crystal Palace secure six points over the title-favorites?

Meanwhile for Man City, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane could inject some freshness back into the squad after sitting out the past couple of games. Also in Man City’s favor, Crystal Palace has lost 12 of its 16 Premier League home games this season. Plus, with a win, Man City goes one point ahead of Liverpool, putting all the pressure on Klopp’s side.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace —  OUT: James Tompkins (groin), Mamadou Sakho (knee) | Manchester City — QUESTIONABLE: Oleksandr Zinchenko, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy

Gerrard takes blame as another Morelos red costs Rangers in derby

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Alfredo Morelos has 29 goals and 11 assists this season for Rangers, but it’ll be difficult to remember the campaign for anything other than a color other than his side’s blue or the green-and-white of his rivals Celtic.

Red, as in the color of the card shown to him for elbowing Scott Brown in the Old Firm Derby on Sunday, giving him five dismissals on the season and helping Celtic earn a 2-1 win over Steven Gerrard‘s feisty visitors.

[ MORE: Celtic top Rangers ]

Morelos had just been clipped on the back of the leg during off-the-ball play, and threw his elbow back at Brown. The wily Celtic captain made the most of the contact and red was shown in the 31st minute.

Early reports say Rangers will fine Morelos a week’s wages, and Gerrard said he “can’t defend him anymore.”

But he’s also pretty angry with Brown, whose altercation with Ryan Kent after Celtic’s second goal helped up the venom in an already vicious rivalry.

From the BBC:

“You’re playing against a player who loves to antagonize. Morelos and Kent are both provoked. Celtic fans have the right to celebrate but to do it right in your face, Halliday has the right to protect his own people.

“The guy who antagonized it all from the beginning deserves to be punished as well. When you’re provoked, it’s only fair that both sides get punished in my view.

Morelos’ first red came in the 12th minute on Opening Day, a 1-1 draw at Aberdeen. Remarkably, he’s twice more been sent off against Aberdeen in league play plus Sunday’s red and another in the last match of Europa League qualifying.

Those are all big games. Rangers are understandably 1W-1D-2L in the four league matches, and have dropped four points in matches he missed through suspension.

Now Rangers are 13 points behind their Glasgow neighbors.

“The gap was already big and it’s even bigger now. The buck stops with me and I’m ready for that. We will move forward from this and try to finish the season as strong as we can.”

Celtic outlasts 10-man Rangers in instant classic

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Old Firm Derby matches always carry intrigue, but this one carried that from moment one to the final whistle.

James Forrest’s 86th minute goal rescued Neil Lennon’s Celtic from what would’ve been an embarrassing draw against their 10-man rivals Rangers at Celtic Park.

It would’ve been a banner day for Rangers under Steven Gerrard, who weathered a red card to Alfredo Morelos to find an equalizer.

Odsonne Eduoard had a goal and an assist for Celtic, who now lead the table by 13 points.

[ MORE: English Championship focus ]

The Bhoys, looking to avenge a first Old Firm loss in ages, went ahead through Edouard in the 27th minute and looked to be in fine shape once Morelos earned his fifth (!!!) red card of the season four minutes later when he threw an elbow into Scott Brown.

But absolutely shocking defense from Celtic allowed Rangers to equalize through Ryan Kent, who scored the winner at the Ibrox, with the visitors’ first shot attempt of the match.

The ending was insane. Eduoard set up Forrest for the winner, a composed finish given the atmosphere, but Rangers kept coming forward.

Celtic cleared a goal mouth scramble wide through Kristoffer Ajer, and goalkeeper Scott Bain rescued the ensuing corner.

It all kicked off after the match, with James Tavernier, Bain, Kent, and Scott Brown at the heart of an on-field, post-whistle shoving match.

Here’s the winner.

Old Firm back in focus as Celtic host Rangers this weekend

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Celtic clinched its 49th Scottish Premiership title with a 5-0 shellacking of rivals Rangers last season, and can come a lot closer to adding No. 50 with a home Old Firm Derby triumph on Sunday.

It’s the first time that Celtic will be seeking to avoid back-to-back losses to Rangers in ages after Steven Gerrard‘s hosts evened the season’s series with a 1-0 defeat of Celtic at the Ibrox Stadium on Dec. 29.

[ MORE: Rashford wants new Man Utd deal ]

Celtic have a 10-point lead on Rangers through 30 matches of league play, and are hoping to sew up an eighth-straight title as quickly as possible.

To take another step while getting revenge against Gerrard and Rangers would be special. This is especially true after Gerrard shot down the idea of Celtic Park being an impactful venue. From Sky Sports:

“I’ve never seen fans win a football match, it will be loud but it won’t be a lion’s den. A lion’s den is when four lions jump over a cage and you fear for your life. You have to thrive in this atmosphere. If any of my players don’t fancy it they are at the wrong club.”

On the other sideline is Neil Lennon, overseeing his first Old Firm match since 2012. Celtic has three wins and a draw since Lennon took the reins from Brendan Rodgers, who took the manager’s chair at Leicester City.

Lennon spent 2000-07 as a player with Celtic, winning five titles, and managed the club to two league crowns during 2010-14. He went 6W-2D-4L against Rangers as Celtic boss, and would love to turn his interim manager title into the full-time gig.

Oddly, he claims the job won’t hang on this match. From the Scottish Daily Record:

“It’ll be whole package over the three months I’ll have been in charge. There is a lot of speculation surrounding that, but that’s all it is. Speculation and conjecture and I’ve obviously taken no notice of it.”