Scottish soccer is dominated by two Glasgow clubs – Rangers and Celtic – with the Old Firm derby being one of the most fiercely battled games in Europe, if not the world. Only 11 clubs have ever won what is now the Scottish Premiership in the history of the competition, with only Rangers and Celtic managing to pick up more than five league championships in 130 years.
But it has been the green half of the city that has been the happiest in recent times. Celtic has won the league for the last nine years and has almost caught up with Rangers’ record of 54 titles. It was Celtic that was the favorite to win the Scottish Premiership again at the beginning of this season – but it is the Rangers that have made the better start to the campaign.
Rangers is now the bookies’ pick to win the league, with Betway pricing it at 1.44 and Celtic further back at 2.50. The next closest is Aberdeen at 101.00. So it is fair to say that the bookmakers do not expect the trophy to leave Glasgow. But might it be making the short trip south of the River Clyde this season?
There is an annual procession in Scottish soccer of the best players in the Premiership signing for either Celtic or Rangers. Much like Bayern Munich in Germany, the two Glasgow giants hoover up the cream of the league to bolster their already bursting squads. Thanks to European competition money, they can both attract a higher class of player from around the world than their Scottish rivals too. But it is probably fair to say that the Rangers did the best business of the two in the offseason.
It is up front, in particular, where Gerrard has added real bite. Cedric Itten came in from Swiss Super League side St. Gallen, while Kemar Roofe joined from Anderlecht. Itten hasn’t really got going yet but even if you don’t take much notice of Scottish soccer you will probably have seen Kemar Roofe’s spectacular long-range effort against Standard Liege in the Europa League.
Gerrard already had two very good strikers in Alfredo Morelos – who was expected to leave the club in the summer – and veteran goal scorer Jermaine Defoe. Ianis Hagi, son of Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi, has given the midfield some extra creativity and suddenly Rangers looks a very dangerous team going forward.
Celtic also made some important signings in the summer, but this was one area where Rangers didn’t fall behind its rivals.
Old Firm Derbies
It is not a complete exaggeration to suggest that Scottish league titles are won and lost on the results of the Old Firm derbies between Rangers and Celtic. Whichever team is more successful in the four games tends to go on to lift the trophy. There were only two games completed between the two last season because of the early finish due to COVID-19, so the fixtures didn’t hold as much sway. But the importance should be back this season – and Rangers has drawn first blood.
It was the 11th game of the season for Rangers and the 2-0 win at Celtic Park kept it at the top of the league and widened the points gap between the two. Celtic did have to deal with a number of injuries and absentees, but Rangers was utterly dominant throughout. Allan McGregor, the Rangers keeper, was hardly troubled until right near the end when the game was already won.
As well as the three points, winning the Old Firm game – especially on the road – is a huge psychological advantage to the victor. The next edition of the famous game isn’t until the beginning of January – and a lot might have happened by that time. The third fixture of the season between the two is to be played at Celtic Park, with the final meeting yet to be scheduled. If Rangers can win just one more of the next two, it would be a huge step in wrestling the title back from Celtic.
COVID-19 and the Lack of Crowds
As with many leagues and tournaments around the world, the Scottish Premiership has played its games behind closed doors so far. There had been a hope that some fixtures would trial the return of supporters, but the increased rates of infection in Scotland has postponed that idea for now. There is a real worry that the campaign will not be able to be completed – as was the case last season. But, assuming that all fixtures will be played, Rangers probably holds a further advantage with the fans not allowed into the stadiums.
Celtic and Rangers can boast intimidating atmospheres, inside Celtic Park and Ibrox respectively, but Steve Gerrard’s team was able to go to its bitter rivals and play eleven against eleven without the crowd influencing the game – or the referee.
It has been noted already this season that there have been fewer incorrect decisions and that could be because referees are not being swayed by supporters and the big crowds into making them.
Although Rangers would also suffer from not having a vociferous home crowd behind the team, it has also been noticed that there have been fewer home wins recorded. In the Scottish Premiership Rangers – and Celtic in particular – tend to do very well at its home ground. This leveling of the games could affect the number of points each Glasgow club wins. If Rangers is winning the Old Firm derbies then that could have a massive effect on the outcome of the season.
The Difficulty of Winning 10 in a Row
While Rangers and Celtic have both been very successful throughout the years, there have been periods of time when one club is far more dominant than the other. There can be years between titles for one or the other as new generations of players pass through the clubs. There have been some incredible winning streaks from both teams – but neither has ever managed to win ten in a row.
Celtic won what was then called the Scottish Football League Division One in the 1965/66 season – and then went on to win another eight successive titles in what was a golden age for the club. It also became the first British team to lift the European Cup in that time when it beat Inter Milan of Italy in 1967. But although Celtic won both cups in the 1974/75 season, it was unable to claim a record tenth league titles in a row.
Rangers won the league a full 11 points ahead of its rivals that year and Hibernian even squeezed in between them to finish second.
In the late 1980s, Rangers brought in a lot of talent from England and started its own period of domination. Celtic won the league in 1988 but it was another ten years before it lifted the trophy again. But that triumph in 1998 ended a nine-year winning streak from Rangers, at a time when a lot of money was coming into the game from revamped competitions and television broadcast deals.
The two clubs traded titles for the next 13 or 14 years before Celtic’s current purple patch began. In the last ten years, Rangers has been put into administration and made insolvent, resulting in starting again at the bottom rung of the professional game in Scotland. The club battled its way back up to the top flight, while Celtic won title after title. But even though it has been in the Scottish Premiership since 2016, Rangers has not been able to topple Celtic off its perch.
There are far more reasoned arguments behind Rangers ending Celtic’s winning streak but history does seem to show that winning the tenth title in a row is far more difficult than winning the nine that come before it.
It’s a shame that the race for the Scottish Premiership title is only ever really between two sides. But until the likes of Aberdeen and Hibs attract the same kind of investment, money and players, that is going to be the case.
With Celtic still three behind in the total amount of league titles won, a triumph at the end of this season would be another step closer to overtaking its bitter rivals – as well as becoming the first-ever Scottish club to win the league ten years in a row. But both of those reasons are also huge incentives for everyone connected to Rangers to do their best to make sure that that doesn’t happen.
The Gers have made a very good start to the season and have now become the favorites at the top online betting sites. It will now be a case of the team having to hold its nerve over the next six or seven months to keep Celtic in second place.