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Steven Gerrard: Players must be kept safe while international football continues

Livingston v Rangers – Scottish Premiership – Tony Macaroni Arena
(Image credit: Willie Vass)

Steven Gerrard insists he has no problem with his Rangers players going on international duty – as long as they are kept safe.

Celtic have voiced their frustration ahead of Saturday’s first Old Firm clash of the campaign after seeing Neil Lennon’s preparations rocked by Covid-19.

Israeli pair Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed and Scotland star Ryan Christie are self-isolating and set to miss the derby battle at Celtic Park, while Odsonne Edouard is due to emerge from quarantine in France less than 24 hours before kick-off.

That sparked angry calls from the Hoops faithful for the champions to call their players back.

Celtic chiefs admit they are powerless to do that but say they will be keeping a keen eye on discussions with FIFA and UEFA regarding the wisdom of continuing with international fixtures while the virus spikes again this winter.

But Gerrard believes club bosses will have to cope with the challenges thrown up by the pandemic in just the same way as they do when faced with a spate of injuries.

The former England skipper said: “Assuming that players can be safe I want international football to continue.

“Of course I do. I remember sitting in the house and there was no football on at all. I was bored out of my mind.

“So I think we’re in a privileged position domestically that things can continue, even though we are facing these challenges.

Joe Aribo (right) has beenout of action since August

Joe Aribo (right) has beenout of action since August (Stuart Wallace/PA)

“We know it’s not perfect but two weeks ago we got a fantastic highlight qualifying against Galatasaray so I can’t sit here and say European and international football should be cancelled because it might suit my Rangers team domestically.

“We have to manage the situation and try to keep the players as safe as we can.”

He added: “It’s very challenging for every club and there’s been a lot of clubs, not just in this league but around Europe, that have had their own challenges from Covid.

“When your players leave your bubble you lose control of them, it’s as simple as that. You’re hoping the national teams take over that responsibility and keep them safe.

“But a lot of clubs are facing different challenges at the moment. Celtic obviously of late but it’s pretty similar to the challenges we’ve faced for the last month. Not having Joe Aribo, not having Kemar Roofe, missing Ryan Jack for three weeks.

“That’s the reason why we try to build squads so we can cope in these situations. We’ve coped extremely well missing three of our important players, arguably three starters.

“All the managers, not just myself and not just Neil, are faced with different challenges week to week and you have to cope and get on with it.”

Rangers – who head to Parkhead a point in front of their bitter rivals having played a game more – have had their own disruptions this week with the late return of nine international players just two days before the derby clash.

Rangers tasted victory in the east end of Glasgow for the first time in nine years back in December but failed to build on that rare away win against Lennon’s team and paid the price as Celtic were crowned champions again.

This weekend’s result could have a major say on the outcome of this year’s title race as the Hoops chase down a historic 10th straight title but Gerrard is backing his team to put on a repeat performance behind closed doors.

He said: “It’s going to be a tough game. (December) was the first time we managed to get a win there for a very long time. That lets you know how difficult the task is. Celtic are a good team, a strong team, a successful team.

“But we went there with a game plan, performed extremely well with confidence and belief and got the job done. We’re hoping the players can go and produce a similar type of performance.

“We’re not really focused on their not being any fans there.

“We’re focused on our game plan. We want the players to go to Celtic Park with belief and confidence but we certainly won’t be going there over confident just on the back of last year.

“We know it’s going to be a very tough challenge and we need to find a real top level performance if we are to have any hope of taking the three points.”