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Celtic boss Neil Lennon urges his side’s debutants to keep calm during Old Firm derby

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celtic boss neil lennon urges his sides debutants to keep calm during old firm derby

Neil Lennon’s first experience of an Old Firm game came on a dark February night at Hampden in 2001.

It encompassed four goals, three red cards and delivered a timely lesson on how easy it is to be consumed by such a volcanic atmosphere.

If the scorers in that 3-1 Celtic win — Henrik Larsson, twice, and Chris Sutton — raised few eyebrows, the identity of those who took the long walk certainly did.

Neil Lennon has urged Celtic's debutants to keep their cool in the Old Firm derby

Neil Lennon has urged Celtic's debutants to keep their cool in the Old Firm derby

Neil Lennon has urged Celtic’s debutants to keep their cool in the Old Firm derby

Lennon's Celtic face Steven Gerrard's Rangers at Celtic Park in Saturday's early kick off

Lennon's Celtic face Steven Gerrard's Rangers at Celtic Park in Saturday's early kick off

Lennon’s Celtic face Steven Gerrard’s Rangers at Celtic Park in Saturday’s early kick off

Not exactly known for their short fuses, the sight of Lubo Moravcik, Claudio Reyna and Michael Mols disappearing early up the tunnel emphasised exactly what this game can do to even the most mild-mannered.

‘It was just a blur,’ recalled Lennon. ‘I was lucky enough to have my second one, a league game, the following weekend.

‘It’s always good for debutants to play well and make their mark on the game and we’ll have a few having their first taste of it this weekend. I just hope that they remember it for the right reasons.’

Lennon's first ever Old Firm derby saw three red cards in a game at Hampden in 2001

Lennon's first ever Old Firm derby saw three red cards in a game at Hampden in 2001

Lennon’s first ever Old Firm derby saw three red cards in a game at Hampden in 2001

Come what may, regrettably, none of them are likely to ever forget it. Some 132 years after Celtic took the honours 5-2 in a friendly, for the first time, there will be no fans of either side present.

Speak to anyone lucky enough to have played in the game and they’ll subscribe to Lennon’s first taste of it. Shouting at a team-mate even at close range is an act of total futility. When those present in the stands are figuratively kicking every ball, nothing can be heard.

Although Steven Gerrard will doubtless be uneasy about Saturday’s game being played out to a muted soundtrack, this unique situation should favour the visitors.

When the Rangers manager celebrated a victory there last December, it was his side’s first in the East End since October 2010 and just their sixth there this century.

Although Rangers’ demise in 2012 is a contributing factor, the home advantage created by 52,000 Celtic supporters has much more to do with it.

Gerrard celebrated Rangers' first victory at Celtic Park last December since October 2010

Gerrard celebrated Rangers' first victory at Celtic Park last December since October 2010

Gerrard celebrated Rangers’ first victory at Celtic Park last December since October 2010

‘It’s certainly not ideal and it does take away the home advantage, there’s no question about that,’ added Lennon. ‘One of the great things about these games is the atmosphere it generates, the colour, the noise and the intensity. Just that crackle in the air.

‘All of that is going to be different, so it’s going to be like no other. The players are 15 or 16 games into playing with no supporters, even on international duty. Whether you get used to it or not, I think you become more accustomed to it.’

The Celtic boss also recognises a familiar narrative building. Before and after returning to the post, the opening derby of the term has invariably come with a warning that the crown on Celtic’s head is no longer so steady and that Rangers are poised to send it toppling to the ground.

Undefeated in their first ten fixtures, Gerrard’s men do look a more solid proposition than last year. Yet, as with a year ago, Lennon looks at his own squad and ponders why the critics believe their time as the top dogs in Glasgow is up.

‘We just carry on as normal,’ he added. ‘Our preparations have been good, as best as we possibly could get them under the circumstances.

Celtic will also have no crowd to roar them on with the game taking place behind closed doors

Celtic will also have no crowd to roar them on with the game taking place behind closed doors

Celtic will also have no crowd to roar them on with the game taking place behind closed doors

‘I take no notice of what people will predict or what they think the outcome will be, because it doesn’t really matter. They don’t know what is going on or how we’ve prepared for the game. I’m delighted if they want to write us off. They’ve done that many times before.’

Ahead of what will be his 40th derby, Scott Brown has used the words of those willing him into retirement as a personal affront.

‘He’s obviously very important,’ said Lennon. ‘He’s the captain, so his experience will be pivotal to us. Even as a player, his all-round game is good at the minute. You could see when I left him out at St Johnstone that his influence was missing.

‘We’ll have all that back. He knows these games more than most. He’s still a great leader and he likes the big games.’

If it’s impossible to underplay the importance of Lennon’s absentees, the manager feels he still has talent and character in abundance.

Scott Brown has used the words of those willing him into retirement as a personal affront

Scott Brown has used the words of those willing him into retirement as a personal affront

Scott Brown has used the words of those willing him into retirement as a personal affront

‘Shane Duffy will be champing at the bit and he’s been a star for us ever since he came in,’ added Lennon. ‘He has leadership qualities, he’s good in the dressing room and, in general, his play has been of a very high standard.

‘Even in the three games he’s just played for the Republic of Ireland, he’s been an absolute rock. He’ll be very, very important for us and he’ll give us that physical presence which is always crucial in these games.’

Win, lose or draw, the Celtic manager will attempt to view the result in isolation. The outcome may be indicative of what way the wind is blowing but it would be foolhardy to assume it cannot quickly change direction.

‘It’s just about winning the game,’ insisted Lennon. ‘I think it gives you a psychological lift if you can win the first one but I don’t think it will have a major bearing on the outcome of the season.

‘It’s too early for that. We heard all that chat at the end of December that we were finished blah, blah, blah.

Lennon also believes Shane Duffy will be 'champing at the bit' to be involved for the hosts

Lennon also believes Shane Duffy will be 'champing at the bit' to be involved for the hosts

Lennon also believes Shane Duffy will be ‘champing at the bit’ to be involved for the hosts

‘We came out all guns blazing in the second half of the season. It’s really difficult to predict how a season is going to go.

‘What I am pleased with is our consistency, the win ratio, the clean sheets. I think there’s more to come from the team and more to come from individuals as well as we go along.

‘It’s been quite stop-start this season in terms of games being cancelled and international breaks. So it’s been difficult to get any sort of momentum going. But we’ve negotiated those circumstances very well of late.’

Back in July, placing this game last on the fixture list seemed like a shrewd move by the authorities. Surely, by mid-October, at least some fans would be clicking through the turnstiles? So much for the theory then.

Lennon also believes the game will not have a huge bearing on the outcome of the season

Lennon also believes the game will not have a huge bearing on the outcome of the season

Lennon also believes the game will not have a huge bearing on the outcome of the season

With the jewel in the crown of Scottish football reduced to a television event, it feels like the shadow cast by the pandemic has never really shortened. Fears surrounding the viability of the current campaign still abound.

‘I worry that we aren’t going to get supporters in. That’s a major concern,’ said Lennon.

‘In terms of what the clubs are doing and trying to get the games played, I think they’ve been tremendous. They’ve made great strides.

‘Sometimes players contracting it can be unavoidable. I don’t think we are any worse or better than the rest of the leagues.’

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Marcus Rashford reveals impressive muscles as he launches Nike underwear line

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marcus rashford reveals impressive muscles as he launches nike underwear line scaled

KIDS’ food champion Marcus Rashford shows he’s a bit of a beefcake himself as he launches Nike’s latest underwear line.

The Man United and England forward took a break from campaigning for free holiday meals for poorer schoolchildren to share this snap on Instagram.

Marcus Rashford revealed his impressive muscles in a pair of red Nike underwear

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Marcus Rashford revealed his impressive muscles in a pair of red Nike underwearCredit: S Goodwin 2019
The footballer showed off his enviable physique as he launched Nike’s latest underwear line

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The footballer showed off his enviable physique as he launched Nike’s latest underwear lineCredit: S Goodwin 2019

The busy 22-year-old has a lot on his plate.

Earlier this week, it was reported that the footballer is set to miss out on a BBC Sports Personality of the Year nomination, despite his remarkable charity work.

Rashford is odds-on favourite with the bookies for the award after earning plaudits for his tireless campaigning for disadvantaged children to receive free meals during school holidays.

But the reports claim the star is likely to be overlooked as the Beeb’s guidelines state only ‘sporting achievements’ can be considered – despite the name of the award.

The kids’ food champion wowed in a pair of black boxers covered in the Nike logo

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The kids’ food champion wowed in a pair of black boxers covered in the Nike logoCredit: S Goodwin 2019

That would leave Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton a strong contender after the Mercedes ace beat Michael Schumacher’s long-standing wins record at the Portuguese GP.

Rashford forced the Government into a U-turn over the summer holidays after fighting for the free school meals programme to be extended in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

And he took on ministers again as many vulnerable children head into the half-term without the safety net of food provided at school.

The Man United star forced the Government into a U-turn over the summer holidays after fighting for free school meals to be extended

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The Man United star forced the Government into a U-turn over the summer holidays after fighting for free school meals to be extendedCredit: PA:Press Association
Man Utd’s Marcus Rashford helps out at food charity after MPs reject bid to extend school meals

GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL exclusive@the-sun.co.uk

This post first appeared on thesun.co.uk

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Manchester United ‘will activate Dayot Upamecano’s £38m release clause next summer’

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manchester united will activate dayot upamecanos 38m release clause next summer

Manchester United will reportedly activate Dayot Upamecano’s £38million release clause next summer as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks to bolster his defensive options.

United have had their eye on the 24-year-old for some time, having previously invited him to Old Trafford for a tour of the club in 2015 before he moved from Valenciennes to Red Bull Salzburg aged 16 for £2million.

Having signed a new contract until 2023 with his current club RB Leipzig, Upamecano’s relatively small release clause will activate next summer – allowing Solskjaer to reignite his long-standing interest in the defender. 

Manchester United will activate Dayot Upamecano's £38million release clause next summer

Manchester United will activate Dayot Upamecano's £38million release clause next summer

Manchester United will activate Dayot Upamecano’s £38million release clause next summer

According to The Times, Upamecano’s release clause will become active during next years summer transfer window for £7million less than his previous – allowing a host of top-flight club’s time to prepare a transfer swoop.

Solskjaer will be looking to get ahead of the pack as he requires defensive stability within his Manchester United side.

Upamecano is a dynamic, confident defender who excels when playing in the counter-attacking style that Solskjaer deploys.

The Red Devils manager will have an opportunity to watch Upamecano in action as his players take on Leipzig in Wednesday’s Champions League fixture.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had his eye on the 24-year-old defender for some time

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had his eye on the 24-year-old defender for some time

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had his eye on the 24-year-old defender for some time 

Upamecano signed a new contract with RB Leipzig until 2023 after making 120 appearances

Upamecano signed a new contract with RB Leipzig until 2023 after making 120 appearances

 Upamecano signed a new contract with RB Leipzig until 2023 after making 120 appearances 

Having previously denied claims that he was trying to sign Upamecano, Solskjaer claimed he refused to respond to speculation out of respect for Leipzig – but insists he will be watching the defender ‘close up’ on Wednesday.   

Solskjaer said: ‘I’ve always tried to respect that they are players for other teams and don’t want to comment on every player that we are linked to, but since he’s playing against us tomorrow I know he’s a very good player so we can see him close up.’ 

Upamecano has featured 120 times for Leipzig since he joined from Red Bull Salzburg in January 2017. 

Upamecano’s impressive form for Leipzig has seen him gain the attention of Europe’s elite. 

Solskjaer hopes Upamecano will solve the defensive issues Manchester United are having

Solskjaer hopes Upamecano will solve the defensive issues Manchester United are having

 Solskjaer hopes Upamecano will solve the defensive issues Manchester United are having

However, it is still Manchester United who are leading the charge for football’s most coveted young defenders. 

United currently have six senior centre-backs in the first-team squad but have failed to show any defensive stability. 

Harry Maguire, who joined for a world-record fee for a defender – £80m – in 2019, has had a torrid time recently at the heart of the United defence, whilst players such as £31m Victor Lindelof and £27m Luke Shaw are flattering to deceive, having both made costly errors in recent Premier League defeats. 

Should Solskjaer sign Upamecano, he will hope his defensive troubles will finally be over. 

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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France coach Edwards delighted to have Dupont and Ntamack leading Six Nations charge

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france coach edwards delighted to have dupont and ntamack leading six nations charge

At long last the French half-back merry-go-round looks to have come to a glorious halt. Never mind being at sixes and sevens, France have been at nines and tens for a decade, sifting through 39 pairs of playmakers since 2009. 

Now they have found a duo for the next decade — and Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack could lead them to the Six Nations crown in Paris on Saturday.

At 23 and 21 respectively, they are regarded as the future of French rugby and many rate the electric Dupont as the best scrum-half in the world.

Antoine Dupont tore apart Wales and many rate him as the best scrum-half in the world

Antoine Dupont tore apart Wales and many rate him as the best scrum-half in the world

Antoine Dupont tore apart Wales and many rate him as the best scrum-half in the world

They may have started together in only 11 Tests since last year, but they know each other inside out — having teamed up at Toulouse — and have been key to the French revival.

‘The good thing is that they play together regularly at Toulouse as well as for France,’ Shaun Edwards, their defence coach at Les Bleus, told Sportsmail. ‘I was a half-back myself and you get more of an understanding with someone like that, so it becomes telepathic after a bit.’

Dupont tore Wales apart on Saturday night, scoring twice as the French laid down a marker before resuming their Six Nations challenge, and Ntamack kicked everything from the tee, scoring 14 points. Edwards wants his young stars to emulate their Irish counterparts Conor Murray, 31, and Johnny Sexton, 35 — a pair he admires hugely — when they clash on Saturday.

‘They have two incredibly experienced half-backs who I have ultimate respect for in Johnny and Conor,’ Edwards said. ‘Two fantastic players over the years who are still world class. We have ultimate respect for the Irish as players and coaches as a lot of them have been there and done it. They’ve done the things we want to do by winning Grand Slams and Six Nations regularly.

Toulouse playmakers Dupont and Romain Ntamack (above) have been key to the French revival

Toulouse playmakers Dupont and Romain Ntamack (above) have been key to the French revival

Toulouse playmakers Dupont and Romain Ntamack (above) have been key to the French revival

‘We want to become a top four team regularly over the next few years — like Ireland have been — and we’re on a mission to do that. Even the top three maybe. To do that you have to beat high quality opponents, which Ireland are. Everything they’ve done we want to do the same.’

Sexton has admired the French revolution. Ireland have to beat them well in Paris to win the Six Nations and he knows it will be a tougher task than in the past.

‘They have been very impressive,’ he said of Fabien Galthie’s men, who have won three of four in the Championship so far. ‘You can see the coaches’ fingerprints all over it in terms of defence and how much more aggressive they are with their line speed.

‘Obviously Shaun Edwards has been excellent with Wales over the years. We have found them particularly tough to break down with that line speed. That has been something we have been talking about a lot. They like to play quick, offload, dominate in the collisions and in defence they bring line speed. France are obviously a top-class team and we need to be at our very best this weekend.’

Edwards, having come from Wales last year after the World Cup, is enjoying being part of a newly dominant French set-up who are charging towards a home World Cup in 2023.

Edwards wants his young stars to emulate Irish counterparts Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton

Edwards wants his young stars to emulate Irish counterparts Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton

Edwards wants his young stars to emulate Irish counterparts Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton

‘One thing I have seen is that the French people are very much behind the team,’ he said. ‘France having a good team is good for world rugby, too. I just get the feeling that everyone wants a good French team. It’s up to us as a coaching team to deliver that.’

In these pages, Sir Clive Woodward has regularly backed France to be favourites in three years’ time.

Edwards, who was inspired to switch from league to union by the former England boss, said of Sir Clive: ‘He was one of the first people who got me interested in rugby union.

‘I went to watch England training and he was so kind to me. He let me watch a session, come to meetings, it was a real eye-opener. He thinks we’re favourites for the World Cup? I don’t know. We’re not allowed to bet, so I’ll stay clear of that! But coming from someone like Sir Clive, who knows his rugby, that is kind praise indeed.’

Ahead of the belated Super Saturday — with Wales playing Scotland, England facing Italy and France hosting Ireland — Edwards hopes the Six Nations conclusion will bring a festival of rugby, even if his game only kicks off at 9.05pm in Paris.

‘I joke to some of the coaches that I’m usually in bed at that time,’ he laughed. ‘Seriously though, it’s great for rugby having three games back-to-back on TV. We can’t have fans but what we can have is record TV audiences. Let’s hope that happens.’

With Dupont and Ntamack providing the spark, there could be fireworks in France.

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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