Celtic or Rangers? The title race is on – where will it be won or lost?

What is the state of play?

At one point Celtic’s lead over Rangers stood at 10 points in the Scottish Premiership. Now, their Old Firm rivals are just five points behind, with two games in hand.

On October 15 Philippe Clement inherited a squad at Ibrox that were bereft of confidence, struggling in Europe and in some people’s minds out of the title race.

However, since that day, Rangers have not lost a game. They have picked up 28 points from 30 in the league, qualified for the last 16 of the Europa League and won the Scottish League Cup.

Celtic meanwhile claimed 26 points from a possible 36, lost consecutive league games and were eliminated from Europe after finishing bottom of their Champions League group – despite a first group-stage win at home in a decade.

When is the next Old Firm?

Saturday 30th December 11:30am Kick off 12:30pm

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The two clubs meet at Celtic Park on December 30 – live on Sky Sports.

Celtic beat Livingston and Dundee either side of Christmas ahead of the Old Firm, while Rangers saw off Motherwell before their game against Ross County on December 27 was postponed after the visitors were unable to reach Ibrox due to bad weather.

There will be no away fans at the derby due to an ongoing ticketing dispute between the clubs, with the SPFL also involved in discussions.

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Highlights from the first Old Firm this season as Kyogo’s stunning strike made the difference at Ibrox

Brendan Rodgers’ side won the first meeting between the clubs this season as his injury-hit team beat Michael Beale’s Rangers 1-0 at Ibrox.

This time, Philippe Clement will be hoping to put pressure on his opposite number with a win of his own in his first Old Firm clash.

Who is favourite for the title?

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Rangers last won the league title in 2021 – ending a long 10 year wait

If you were to answer that based on the form book alone, you would suggest Rangers. However, do that at your peril.

Other factors come into the equation. The mentality to get over the line in a title race, playing in Glasgow’s goldfish bowl, potential January transfers and even injuries – a lot can change.

Over the last 12 seasons, Celtic have won the league 11 times with Rangers claiming just one in 2020/21 as they stopped their rivals clinching a 10th consecutive title.

Several members of Rodgers’ squad know what it takes to get over the line, as does the manager himself who won back-to-back league titles during his first spell in Glasgow, including an invincible treble.

Brendan Rodgers won two league titles during his first spell as Celtic manager
Image: Brendan Rodgers won two league titles during his first spell as Celtic manager

On first glance, league tables in recent years, such as 2022, may suggest there have been some close battles for Scotland’s top spot. However, in reality, that title was sewn up comfortably and you need to go back to 2010/11 for the last genuine title race as Rangers were crowned champions on the last day of the season.

It takes a certain mentality to win the league and while Rangers’ form is putting them in a strong position – you can’t underplay the experience Rodgers and his squad have. It really is too close to call.

Where will it be won or lost?

Alistair Johnston closes down Rabbi Matondo
Image: The Old Firm will meet three more times in the league this season

As well as experience – you need to handle the big occasions and games do not come bigger than the match on December 30.

If you cast your mind back to the corresponding fixture in February 2022 when Rangers visited Celtic, without away fans, in a game where that top spot was up for grabs – Ange Postecoglou’s side blew their rivals away and moved to the summit for the first time.

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Highlights of the match between Celtic and Rangers in 2022 as Ange Postecoglou’s side went top of the Scottish Premiership for the first time

Rangers were spooked under the Parkhead lights and that Old Firm was key in the title race. The games between Glasgow’s big two can be decisive.

There is no guarantee – as Celtic’s last two league games have shown – that the Old Firm will win against other clubs across the league but if they do take care of business elsewhere, the remaining three matches between Celtic and Rangers could have a huge say in where the title ends up in May.

Will either club strengthen in January?

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 28: Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers looks dejected at full time during a UEFA Champions League group stage match between S.S. Lazio and Celtic at Stadio Olimpico, on November 28, 2023, in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Image: Brendan Rodgers hopes to add quality to his squad in the coming transfer windows

Brendan Rodgers has made no secret of his desire to add ‘quality’ to his squad. The Hoops have a large cash reserve and could strengthen in January.

With key players set to be called up to the Asia Cup and the manager seemingly not happy with his options to help the club compete on all fronts – it could be a busy transfer window.

A striker and defensive reinforcements are top of some Celtic fans’ wish lists – and Rodgers could look to offload some of his fringe options too as he aims to mould a squad that can help take the club to the next level.

Tom Lawrence and Danilo have been added to Rangers' injury list
Image: Injuries to Tom Lawrence and Danilo could force Rangers into action in the transfer window

Philippe Clement meanwhile says he has been speaking with the club’s board about their plans next month.

A new director of football recruitment joins on January 2 and with a growing injury list – something Clement described as his “biggest puzzle” – Rangers too could be forced to spend in the winter window.

A striker and central midfielder could be top of the list due to those absentees – and Abdallah Sima’s expected AFCON call-up – but whoever does arrive will have to hit the ground running, with question marks still surrounding some of those nine new faces who joined in the summer.

Why there’s more than just a trophy at stake

Luis Palma fired Celtic in front from the penalty spot
Image: Celtic won their first Champions League group stage game at home in 10 years as they beat Feyenoord

You might think I mean pride here – and yes there is that. However, Champions League football is also up for grabs with this season’s league winners guaranteed a group-stage spot and big prize money: at least £35m.

However, due to the UEFA coefficient rankings, it could be the last season an automatic spot is up for grabs for some time.

Rangers' Cyriel Dessers celebrates with Abdallah Sima as he scores to make it 2-1 vs Real Betis
Image: Rangers beat Real Betis away to win their Europa League group

That’s because Scotland are in a battle to finish 10th in UEFA’s rankings this season – which impacts clubs in the 2025/26 campaign. Then from 2026/27 there could be no automatic places, plenty of tricky qualifiers and a huge dent in cash available for clubs to strengthen and compete in Europe.

Source : Sky Sports