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Report: Rangers confident of Gerrard appointment

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Steven Gerrard to Rangers isn’t just buzz, apparently.

Liverpool’s legendary midfielder is ready to move from the pundits’ booth and Reds youth academy set-up to first team football, and he isn’t dodging a challenge.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Saints go marching up; Chelsea close in on 4th ]

Gerrard, who turns 38 next month, was reportedly offered the Glasgow Rangers job and the club is confident he will accept the role.

“BBC Scotland understands talks between the club and Gerrard have gone well, with the 37-year-old believed to be keen on taking over at Ibrox.”

Rangers are back amongst the better teams in the Scottish Premiership but the new boss will be tasked with ending Celtic’s soon-to-be (soon, like perhaps by the time you finish reading this post) seven-consecutive seasons atop the league.

Ever the villain, Celtic’s Brown preens after Old Firm Derby

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Scott Brown is one of the top villains in the world of football.

From his hard-edged play to his sharp tongue — not to mention his famous celebration in front of El-Hadji Diouf — the longtime Celtic midfielder does not shy away from drama.

[ RECAP: Rangers 2-3 Celtic ]

Few moments carry more of that than those within an Old Firm Derby, and Celtic has not lost one outside of penalties in 12 outings.

That continued with an outstanding display on Sunday, with Brown assisting the second of Celtic’s two equalizers before the 10-man Bhoys won 3-2 at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow.

Brown then gleefully entertained microphones (from the BBC):

“We’ve come here four times and won four games, so we believe we can win here all the time now.

“They did a lot of talking beforehand – we stayed quiet. We usually do our talking on the park.”

Clearly cognizant that he was talking — there’s an adverb usually there — Brown had no problems antagonizing Rangers and his detractors. He even celebrated on the pitch sans shirt and avec sunglasses.

Manager Brendan Rodgers didn’t shy away from a confident reply to the win, either, saying:

“There was a lot of noise before the game, but that’s natural – they’ve been on a good run and at home, thinking they could get the victory. But I think the players today showed their quality and that real champion mentality.”

For Rangers there’s little comfort in knowing they are closing the gap on their rivals after a long drop out of the top flight and a quick battle back, but Sunday’s match was a thriller. One day, celebrations will be sweet on a day Glasgow turns blue.

Joey Barton gets three week suspension after Rangers bust-up

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What you see is what you get with Joey Barton but it appears it is too much for Glasgow Rangers to handle.

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Barton, 34, was sent home from Rangers’ training ground last Thursday, didn’t feature in the 0-0 draw at Ross County at the weekend and was told to come back on Monday after a heated exchange with teammate Andy Halliday in the aftermath of Rangers’ shocking 5-1 defeat to Old Firm rivals Celtic.

On Monday morning, following a meeting with manager Mark Warburton, Rangers released a statement which confirmed Barton has been suspended for three weeks after his actions.

Here is the statement in full from the Scottish Premiership club:

Joey Barton has today been suspended by the club and will not return to Ibrox or Auchenhowie for a period of three weeks. The manager, Mark Warburton, and club believe that time and space is required for both the club and the player to assess all that has happened. Neither party will make any further statement or comment on this issue.

Barton was seen leaving their Ibrox home on Monday after a meeting with manager Mark Warburton and although he declined to comment about that meeting, when asked if he was still a Rangers player he simply said: “I think so.”

Since the incident occurred last week and during his initial time away from the club, Barton sent out a lengthy message on Twitter where he apologized for his actions but also said “saying sorry doesn’t always mean you are wrong.” He then went on national radio in the UK and talked about the incident further. That won’t have gone done well with the Rangers hierarchy.

We all know about Barton’s past and it is difficult to see if he has a future at Rangers after the latest in a long line of spats involving the Manchester City academy product who has one cap for the English national team.

During his time at Man City he was handed a two-month suspended sentence by the police for beating up teammate Ousmane Dabo in 2007, plus put a cigarette out in the eye of youth team player in 2004. Barton was also sentenced to four months in jail in 2008 after being involved in a street fight in his home city of Liverpool. On the pitch he has been banned numerous times by the English FA during his spells at Man City, Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers.

Still outspoken on social media and in rare media appearances, Barton seemed to be finally settling down as he played 38 times for Burnley last season and was in the PFA Championship Team of the Year as they won promotion to the Premier League. However, despite being offered a new contract Barton decided to leave England and make a very surprising move to Rangers who had just returned to Scotland’s top-flight four years after being demoted to the bottom division due to financial mismanagement.

Now, Rangers knew what they were getting into with Barton and if this incident with Halliday was only a verbal disagreement, as it’s been widely reported, then a three-week ban seems very excessive. These kind of bust-ups happen more often than you think on training grounds.

Then again, when Barton is involved things always seem to be a lot more sinister and we don’t know exactly what was said by the talented yet troubled Englishman. Perhaps his meeting with Warburton turned sour quickly. We will find out in due course but sadly this was an incident many could see happening a mile off.

Juventus vs. Celtic: When all else fails, talk about the referees

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Juventus is up 3-0 over Celtic ahead of the teams’ second leg in Turin, and while miracles can happen, nobody’s going to chide you for assuming this one’s done and dusted. The Italian champions have only given up three goals at home once in since Jan. 2011, a game in which they still managed to score a goal. Celtic would have to better that result (by Internazionale on Nov. 3) to make it to the quarterfinals.

And while it would be tedious to focus on that improbability in the lead up to today’s Champions League eliminato., we’ve somehow found an even more tiresome topic: Complaining about officiating.

After the first leg in Glasgow, Celtic was irate that Juventus defenders were allowed to be so physical while defending corner kicks. At one point, the game stalled as Celtic players incredulously appeared to Alberto Undiano to stop wing back Stephan Lichsteiner’s holding on set pieces.

From Ewan Murray’s report in the Guardian:

The Italians left Glasgow with a 3-0 victory from the first leg three weeks ago but also having sparked fierce debate over their glaring, grappling tactics when defending corners. Celtic’s ire over the approach of Juventus was so great that they took their complaints to Uefa, the European game’s ruling body.

Celtic coach Neil Lennon:

“[Celtic’s chief executive] Peter Lawwell said we will get a call from Uefa but we haven’t had anything yet,” Lennon added. “I am disappointed but is it really a surprise? We have a Turkish referee now – I don’t know what Turkish referees are like but I hope he is stronger than the Spanish one.

“All I want is for him to do his job and I don’t think [Undiano] did his job properly in the first leg. I don’t think I’ve seen it as blatant as that, ever. It was just so galling.”

Galling enough to stay on his mind for three weeks, apparently.

Juventus’s first leg tactics would still be in focus regardless of the score, but with Celtic given almost no chance of advancing, it seems to be the only thing on anybody’s mind.

And we can’t just place this blame on Lennon. Somebody’s asking him these questions. He’s just saying what he thinks. Sure, it’s a little weird that he’s holding on to what happened in Glasgow, but certainly there’s something else we can talk about.

(And yes, I realize the irony of talking about what I don’t want to talk about. That’s criticism for you.)

More from Lennon:

“I’m not expecting to win the game three or four nil but I’d like to win it 1-0, 2-1 – if we could do that it would be a fantastic achievement again.

“Is the tie beyond us? I’m a realist. It will take a minor miracle but miracles do happen sometimes.

Consider the contrast in his comments. On one hand (regarding set pieces), Lennon’s resorted to typical coach speak. Oh, this is outrageous, even though that kind of cynical defending is pretty common.  But about his team’s second leg chances, he’s being more honest than most, saying he’d be happy with a result that would eliminate his club from Champions League.

Lennonian dualism – so much more interesting than dwelling on officials.

As for Antonio Conte’s part, he’s taking Lennon’s complaints in stride.

“If Lennon complains about the referees perhaps he is a coach who can come [to] Italy because here we all complain.

Barring a complete collapse, Juventus is going through. If they can do so without aggravating Neil Lennon, our soccer coverage will be better off.

Offshore Drilling, UEFA Champions League: Juventus 3, at Celtic 0

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An early defensive blunder from center half Efe Ambrose gifted Juventus a third minute lead, leaving Celtic 87 minutes to try and salvage a result in the home leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup. Never able to breach goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Celtic were ultimately handed a humbling 3-0 deficit, with late goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic putting this tie to rest after only 90 minutes.

Celtic fans may be able to convince themselves they had the better of play for most of the night, but when you give up a goal to Juventus so early in the match, the game’s bound to look lopsided. Particularly in a competition where road goals are so valuable, Juventus is content to sit back and wait for you to over-extend.

After Alessandro Matri’s early goal, that’s exactly what Juve elected to do, a decision that proved prudent as the home side continuously failed to put a credible threat on Buffon. Lacking the ingenuity to match their industry, Celtic allowed Buffon to rack up seven saves without every truly being tested.

(MORE: PSG wins in Spain, loses Zlatan.)

Conversely, Juventus put only four shots on Frazier Forester. Three ended up in the back of his net, the product of a game that was destined to wage Juventus’s counter against Celtic’s creativity. It was never a fair fight.

So the Glaswegians were left to rue their early, match-defining mistake – a long ball out of Juve’s end from Federico Peluso that was misjudged by Ambrose. Forester compounded the mistake by putting himself in no man’s land on the resulting bouncer, with Matri able to get his shot just over the line before Kelvin Wilson could defend the empty net.

In the 77th minute, Matri set up Claudio Marchisio for Juventus’s final goal, his one-touch pass behind a tracking Scott Brown allowing the Italian international to cut back onto his right before doubling Juve’ s lead. Six minutes later, Vucinic capped the lopsided result.

The match was typical Juventus, a team whose success over the last two years has been predicated on taking advantage of others’ mistakes. Their ability to do makes them one of the best teams in Europe and in a different class from Celtic.

The Scottish champions knew about that disparity going into the match, yet their group stage success against Barcelona gave them reason to think their approach could neutralize better sides. On Tuesday, it didn’t come close.

(MORE: Did Ibrahimovic deserve his red card?)

Man of the Match: When you sit on your heels for most of the match, few players get a chance to give Man of the Match-caliber performances, but with some late, confident grabs of Charles Mulgrew and Kris Commons crosses, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon proved Juve’s most valuable player. While none of his seven saves were difficult, Buffon did well to prevent opportunities for followup shots. He also made some astute reads on shots that went just wide of goal, giving his team possession instead of conceding dangerous corner kicks.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Somebody needs to ask about Efe Ambrose – It’s too much to say Neil Lennon made a bad choice in going with Ambrose over sliding Charles Mulgrew into central defense (or starting Adam Matthews and moving Mikael Lustig in from right back). Ambrose played in Sunday’s Cup of Nations final. Asking him to report for 90 minutes in Glasgow 48 hours later may have been too much. But we don’t see Mulgrew and Matthews in training, nor do we know how Ambrose felt when he came back. All we can do is ask questions, but it’s possible Lennon deduced a sub-par Ambrose was still his best option.

Matri’s hard work pays off – The third minute confusion wasn’t the only time Alessandro Matri’s willingness to challenge Celtic defenders was a factor. Multiple times in the first half, Matri’s ability to match Ambrose physically allowed Juventus to play long balls out of the back while still challenging for possession. Given how much of the game Juve had given to Celtic (and how deep into their own end that had pushed them), the tactic proved a nice way to relieve pressure. Matri’s goal and assist may overshadow his more subtle efforts, but some of the Juve striker’s best contributions weren’t recorded on the scoresheet.

Celtic couldn’t play their game – In fairness, we don’t know that Celtic were going to approach this game the same way they did Barcelona. Juventus is a completely different team, one that doesn’t need possession to be effective. Yet there was still an assumption that the underlying philosophy would be the same: Defend, take few chances, and wait for opportunities. It’s a lot like Juventus’s approach, and since Celtic made the first mistake, we never got to see if their plan would have worked. It’s difficult to see how a conservative approach would have led to anything but a boring game, but down 1-0 in after three minutes, Celtic had to play into Juventus’s hands.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Because of the way this one played out, we didn’t learn much about Juventus. There are still questions about where, in the European pecking order, we should slot this Juve team, mostly because they didn’t compete in last year’s Champions League. After today’s result, we’re no closer to answers. Early goals make games aberrational.
  • Martin Caceras, in at left-central defender for the injured Giorgio Chiellini, was one of Juventus’s most effective players. Along with Buffon and Matri, he had a Man of the Match claim.
  • Celtic went with a 4-3-3/4-3-2-1 formation that set up Commons, Gary Hooper and James Forrest to press Juve’s back three man-for-man. Unfortunately, because of the early goal, we didn’t get a chance to see how the approach would have worked. Still, it was a minor surprise from a Celtic team many assumed would play closer to a 4-5-1. It also casts doubts on whether Celtic was ever going to be as deferential and defensive as we saw against Barcelona.