Rangers talking points as Steven Gerrard returns to familiar ground in Birkenhead
Ahead of the glitz and glamour of welcoming Arsenal and Real Madrid to Ibrox this month, Rangers’ pre-season preparations will continue in more prosaic fashion in Birkenhead on Saturday.
Steven Gerrard will return to familiar ground on Merseyside as the Scottish champions face Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park, the stadium which was a home venue for Liverpool’s under-18 side when the Rangers manager was earning his coaching spurs in charge of the Anfield club’s youth squad.
Back then, Gerrard was operating in the UEFA Youth League with his beloved Reds. This season he is hoping to return to a tournament in which he achieved iconic status as a Liverpool player, with Rangers’ Champions League qualifying campaign starting at the beginning of August.
The build-up to those hugely significant ties, along with the start of their Premiership title defence against Livingston at Ibrox on July 31, kicked off for Gerrard’s squad with a 1-0 win at Partick Thistle on Monday night.
What can Rangers supporters expect to see in their team’s second friendly match against Micky Mellon’s English League Two outfit at noon on Saturday?
Stepping it up
Gerrard effectively fielded two different teams against Partick, with goalkeeper Robbie McCrorie the only player to complete the full 90 minutes.
Established number one Allan McGregor could return against Tranmere, while his deputy Jon McLaughlin may also be available once more after an extended summer break due to his involvement with the Scotland squad at the Euro 2020 finals.
Several youth and fringe players were handed the opportunity to press their claims in the first half against Thistle but Rangers were more impressive after the break when many of their more established players took the field.
Joe Aribo, who looks as if he has been no stranger to extra work in the gym this summer, hit the ground running while the seemingly ageless Steven Davis was as composed as ever in midfield where 20-year-old Stephen Kelly did his cause no harm. He is likely to be given more game time on Saturday.
First appearance for Lundstram?
Seven years ago, John Lundstram made his debut for Everton in a friendly against Tranmere at Prenton Park. The midfielder never played in a competitive fixture for The Toffees, leaving in 2015 on a career path which this week saw him sign for Rangers after his contract at Sheffield United expired.
Lundstram was in the stand at Firhill on Monday night and the 27-year-old will be eager to get onto the pitch in a Rangers jersey for the first time this weekend.
Itten’s chance to shine
Swiss international striker Cedric Itten’s first season at Rangers following his £2.7 million move from St Gallen last summer struggled to gather any sustained momentum.
The 24-year-old was in the starting line-up for just nine of his 37 appearances, scoring six goals.
Itten grabbed the late winner against Thistle at Firhill and will look to build on that as the pre-season schedule continues.
With Alfredo Morelos’ return to Glasgow delayed by Colombia’s involvement at the Copa America, amid fresh speculation over his future, and Kemar Roofe facing a four-match UEFA ban at the start of the season, Itten has the opportunity to lay down a case for more regular game time in the new campaign.
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