Rangers’ revival under Gerrard combined with Celtic’s inevitable demise creates best Scottish title


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Rangers’ revival under Gerrard combined with Celtic’s inevitable demise creates best Scottish title race in years
paul forsyth, The Times

Ever since Rangers emerged from the wilderness to reclaim their place in Scotland’s top flight, the same question has been put to them in a desperate, some would say naive, attempt to create the impression that Scottish football is competitive after all.

“Can you win the title?” they were asked when they completed their long journey back from a financial disaster that forced them to start again in the country’s bottom tier. “Are you closing the gap?” was a variation of the same theme, one that exasperated at least one of their managers, Mark Warburton.

In this, their third season back in the top tier, the same issue is again being aired, with the same regularity, only this time the words are more than just an empty effort to placate supporters and sell newspapers. At the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership table, just four points separate Celtic, Rangers, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen.

That Rangers are on the same points total as Celtic, albeit with a game more played, suggests that we have not only a title race, but a new dynamic between the two Glasgow clubs, a genuine return to the rivalry of old and, dare it be said, maybe even the early signs of a shift in power between them.

A series of developments have combined to alter the landscape, the first of which is that Celtic have tailed off, as they were alway destined to do at some point. By definition, it was almost impossible for them to improve upon the unbeaten domestic season with which Brendan Rodgers started his managerial tenure in 2016-17.

He has continued to win every Scottish trophy available to him — the count now stands at seven — but the hunger is hard to maintain, they have become less consistent and there have even been spells when they appear to have lost their way. Some questionable recruitment has also compromised their ability to press home the strong financial advantage that comes with participation in the Champions League.

None of which would have mattered quite so much had it not coincided with the arrival of Steven Gerrard at Rangers. By starting his managerial career at Ibrox last summer, he galvanised the club with new standards, more belief and the profile to demand and attract better players. His work in the transfer market has been flawed, there have been tactical mistakes and, as recently as just before Christmas, his team were criticised for lacking ideas in the final third, but overall the progress has been marked.

They reached the group stage of the Europa League, kept themselves in the title mix and, most importantly of all, produced a result at the end of last month that changed everything. A victory in the Old Firm game is always worth more than three points, but this time it was incalculable for Rangers, who didn’t just beat Celtic for the first time in 13 attempts since Rodgers arrived in Scotland. They completely dominated them. They planted a seed of doubt in their rivals’ minds. They ignited their own support with a performance so impressive that it took even themselves by surprise. Suddenly, they looked capable not just of closing the gap, but of going all the way.

It was a major psychological breakthrough, one that caused Rangers’ board to scent blood. Emboldened by what was emerging as an unexpected opportunity, they have waded into the transfer market and signed both Jermain Defoe, the former England international, and Steven Davis, the Northern Ireland captain, from Bournemouth and Southampton respectively. The arrival of two Premier League players at their training camp in Tenerife, where they are spending a week of Scotland’s winter break, has added to the increasingly fevered atmosphere around the club.

It was seen as a statement of intent, one to which Celtic have responded, albeit with a trio of signings whose ability to make an immediate impact is uncertain. While Rangers have gone for experience, their rivals have opted for youth. Oliver Burke, the 21-year-old winger whose spectacularly promising career has gone off the rails, has joined on a six-month loan from West Bromwich Albion. Timothy Weah, the 18-year-old son of George, has also been secured on a temporary deal from Paris Saint-Germain. And £2 million was spent on securing Vakoun Issouf Bayo, 21, from the Slovakian side, Dunajska Streda.

All of which has set up a fascinating second half of the season, the most competitive in Scotland for years. Celtic should still win the title. They have been over the course before, they have a stronger squad and a more experienced manager, but it is no longer a foregone conclusion.

Even less certain is Celtic’s procession to ten consecutive league championships, the achievement that their supporters crave more than anything. In the past, the two Glasgow clubs have each racked up nine in a row, but a tenth would be unprecedented, which is why one is as desperate to stop the current run as the other is to extend it. During Rangers’ absence from the upper reaches of Scottish football, Celtic have taken the sequence to seven. Their pursuit of an eighth is shaping up to be utterly compelling.


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Don't let Derek McInnes read that, someone who refuses to bow down and forget about challenging Celtic.
We believe and we are fùcking going for it.

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