The Old Firm rivalry is finally competitive again

There have been some great title races at the top of Scottish football but not for over a decade. Indeed, the 2010/11 season was the last time Celtic and Rangers finished within touching distance of each other at the top of the table. Now, though, a Scottish title race for the ages is developing.

Three points is all that separates the two Glasgow rivals after 30 fixtures of the 2021/22 Scottish Premiership campaign. Celtic and Rangers are well-matched and that is reflected in how close they are to each other in the table. There will be twists and turns between now and the end of the season.

Celtic started the campaign in disarray. Ange Postecoglou arrived as the consolation prize to Eddie Howe, the managerial candidate Celtic spent months chasing, and new signings were slow to come through the door. Many predicted this would be a transitional season for the Hoops with Rangers seemingly dominant at the top of the Scottish game.

Under Postecoglou, though, Celtic have become a dynamic side with the ability to blow away any domestic opponent. The likes of Kyogo Furuhashi, Filipe Jota, Josip Juranovic, Liel Abada and Joe Hart have settled quickly and have rejuvenated a squad that was in desperate need of replenishment last summer.

In terms of squad depth, Celtic are now awash with options, particularly in midfield and attack. Rotation has kept Postecoglou’s team fresh with injuries to important players like Furuhashi and David Turnbull absorbed. The turnover at Celtic Park since the end of last season has been remarkable and the club can feel they have done a good job of building themselves back up again.

Meanwhile, Rangers have lost Steven Gerrard to Aston Villa with Giovanni van Bronckhorst appointed in his place. Results have been mixed under the Dutchman with the Ibrox side nowhere near as defensively solid as they were last season when they kept a record 25 clean sheets from 38 fixtures.

Some signs of regression had been obvious in Rangers’ play and results before Gerrard’s departure, and at first it appeared van Bronckhorst had refocused the defending champions, but recent draws against Dundee United and Motherwell as well as the Old Firm derby defeat to Celtic last month have deepened doubt at Ibrox.

And yet Rangers remain firmly in the title fight. Van Bronckhorst’s side continue to grind out results, beating Aberdeen and St Johnstone with a 1-0 scoreline in the last week. This is still a team with a winning mentality and that could be enough to get them over the line in the title race with Celtic.

Alfredo Morelos has been revitalised by the appointment of van Bronckhorst with the Colombian scoring eight goals in his last 14 appearances. Ryan Kent has also picked up his form with the English winger embracing the extra responsibility being placed on him by the new man in charge at Ibrox. If Rangers are to retain their title, it will likely be because of the performances of this pair.

The league clash between Rangers and Celtic on April 3 could be the biggest Old Firm derby for a long time, at least until the two teams meet again after ‘The Split.’ Tension has already been evident in the recent performances of both teams and that is only likely to increase as the finish line starts to appear on the horizon.

With just eight fixtures of the 2021/22 Scottish Premiership campaign left to play, the title could still end up in the hands of either Celtic or Rangers. It’s possible the outcome of the race between the two rivals won’t be decided until the final day. That would be a fitting conclusion to a contest that has captivated to this point.

Author: Lucas Carlson