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Gerrard’s Rangers clinch place in Europa League Round of 16

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Steven Gerrard put another bullet line on his managerial resume with a place in the Europa League Round of 16.

Rangers kept an away clean sheet at Sporting Braga to win 1-0 on Wednesday, 4-2 on aggregate.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Former Liverpool youth Ryan Kent was the goal scorer, giving him 13 goals and 13 assists in his two seasons in Glasgow.

“This is no fluke,” Gerrard preened. “This has come from sheer hard graft. We knew there was an opportunity. We need to enjoy tonight. We’ll be really proud when the draw is made.”

Gerrard admitted that the goal was to cede possession to the hosts, but keep the ball with their back five. Braga had 69 percent of the ball and a 13-9 edge in shots, but Rangers put five of nine shots on target.

Rangers reach the Round of 16 for the first time since 2011, when it lost to PSV Eindhoven 1-0 over two legs. The last time it went farther was the 2008 UEFA Cup Final loss to Zenit Saint-Petersburg.

Rangers are 12 points off Celtic with a match-in-hand in the race for the Scottish Premiership. Celtic will bid to move to the Round of 16 when they host Copenhagen on Thursday following a 1-1 draw in Denmark.

Europa League roundup: Big comeback for Gerrard’s Rangers; Marsch’s Salzburg falls

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Both Old Firm rivals picked up notable first leg results, while American coach Jesse Marsch endured a tough knockout round debut as the Europa League sprung back into action on Thursday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Premier League sides Arsenal and Wolves both collected wins — the latter in highlight-reel fashion — after Manchester United drew in Belgium to start the day.

Rangers 3-2 Braga

The visitors set the tone for an audacious tie with a marvelous 11th-minute goal, but Steven Gerrard‘s hosts took a one-goal lead with an even better comeback.

Fransergio scored the show-stopping opener in question before Barcelona loanee Abel Ruiz made it 2-0 before the hour mark.

Rangers thundered back, though, with Joe Aribo bookending a brace from Ianis Hagi — son of Gheorghe — to take an advantage to Portugal.

Hagi has 10 caps but has yet to score for Romania, but has three goals and an assist in his first six matches for the Glaswegian set.

Eintracht Frankfurt 4-1 Red Bull Salzburg

Marsch’s men were down 2-0 at the break and 4-0 before the hour mark, but will at least have the comfort of Hwang Hee-Chan’s 85th-minute away goal to bring back to Austria for the second leg.

Daichi Kamada scored a hat trick for the Bundesliga side, with Filip Kostic netting Eintracht’s other goal.

Copenhagen 1-1 Celtic

The Glaswegian set saw two of its stars combine to produce a quarter-hour lead, with Odsonne Edouard the scorer off a Callum McGregor assist, but ex-Hull and Sunderland man Dame N'Doye salvaged a draw for the hosts in the second half.

Full Thursday UEL scoreboard

CFR Cluj 1-1 Sevilla
Club Brugge 1-1 Manchester United — RECAP
Eintracht Frankfurt 4-1 Red Bull Salzburg
Copenhagen 1-1 Celtic
Getafe 2-0 Ajax
Ludogorets Razgrad 0-2 Inter Milan
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Benfica
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Istanbul Basaksehir
APOEL Nicosia 0-3 Basel
AZ Alkmaar 1-1 LASK
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Porto
Olympiacos 0-1 Arsenal — RECAP
Rangers 3-2 Braga
Roma 1-0 Gent
Wolfsburg 2-1 Malmo
Wolves 4-0 Espanyol — RECAP

Gerrard slams Rangers’ mentality as title hopes slip away

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The good news: Steven Gerrard appears set to take Rangers to back-to-back second-place finishes in the Scottish Premiership in his first two seasons in charge.

[ MORE: The race for Premier League promotion is red-hot ]

The bad news: While that’s an improvement on the back-to-back third-place finishes which preceded Gerrard’s appointment in the summer of 2018, the distance which Rangers still have to close between themselves and eight-time defending champions, and hated rivals, Celtic is still quite large.

As recently as Jan. 24, Rangers trailed Celtic by just two points and had a game in hand which could have sent them top of the league. Since that point, Rangers have dropped eight points from five games and trail by 10 points (still with a game in hand).

Gerrard is very displeased by these recent results and picked Wednesday, after losing 2-1 away to seventh-place Kilmarnock, to make it known — quotes from the BBC:

“I thought we had the mentality and the characters to sustain a push, but on the evidence of the last four to five weeks, I’m getting proven wrong.

“But having said that, it’s me as well because I’m responsible for that group of players.”

“Very, very tough. You’ve got to look at the form of other people that are relentless right now.

“But we keep going and try to change the situation that we put ourselves in. There’s no denying they’re obviously in the driving seat”

[ MORE: Report: Chelsea closing in on Hakim Ziyech deal ]

Gerrard is widely perceived to have done well at Rangers, which will almost certainly lead to his name being linked with any mid-table-to-bottom-half Premier League jobs beginning either this summer or the next one. His window to unseat Celtic is probably small, as is that of Rangers based on the evidence of the last few weeks.

Europa League draw: Arsenal, Man Utd, Wolves learn fate

Europa League Manchester United Club Brugge
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Premier League sides learned their fate in the UEFA Europa League, and not one of them were handed an easy path to the Round of 16.

Manchester United drew Club Brugge, who transferred from the Champions League after a third place finish. The sides met in UCL qualifying back in 2015, the Red Devils cruising past the Belgians.

[ MORE: Champions League draw ]

Arsenal tangles with stingy Greek side Olympiacos, having met in four Champions League group stages between 2009-15.

Wolves draw a side its never faced: La Liga mainstay Espanyol.

The notable matches don’t stop there.

American coach Jesse Marsch will lead Red Bull Salzburg against the Bundesliga’s Eintracht Frankfurt.

Old Firm rivals Celtic and Rangers both learned their fates, the Bhoys will meet Danish powers Copenhagen and Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers clash with Braga.

The Round of 32 matches will be staged Feb. 20 and 27.

Europa League Round of 32
Wolves v. Espanyol
Sporting Lisbon v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Getafe v. Ajax
Bayer Leverkusen v. Porto
Copenhagen v. Celtic
APOEL Nicosia v. Basel
CFR Cluj v. Sevilla
Olympiacos v. Arsenal
AZ Alkmaar v. LASK
Club Brugge v. Manchester United
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Inter Milan
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Red Bull Salzburg
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Benfica
Wolfsburg v. Malmo
Roma v. Gent
Rangers v. Braga

Gerrard extends contract amid strong start as Rangers boss

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Steven Gerrard is quite keen to stick around as Rangers boss following a strong start to his managerial career, leading the 39-year-old first-time manager to sign a two-year contract extension on Friday.

[ MORE: Ljungberg wants quick appointment of new Arsenal manager ]

With his current contract previously set to run through the 2021-22 season, Gerrard’s services have been secured until the summer of 2024.

Gerrard has been largely successful since taking over the Scottish Premiership side last summer, guiding Rangers to their highest points total (78) since returning to the first division in 2016, and a second-place finish (also for the first time) behind rivals Celtic. Rangers reached the Europa League’s round of 32 on Thursday, marking their first trip to the knockout round of European competition since 2011.

That much success so quickly will undoubtedly lead to Gerrard’s name being linked with increasingly large jobs in England, likely prompting Rangers to act preemptively.

“I’m delighted to be extending my stay at this fantastic football club. When the chairman approached me about the possibility of extending my contract with Rangers, it was a very easy decision to make because I’m very happy and feel that we are building something special together at the club.

“I’d like to thank the board for the backing they have given me already in my time at the club and also most importantly, the Rangers fans who have given me and the team such tremendous backing both this season and last.”