What is the state of play?
It has been a rollercoaster of a season so far and it is Celtic who remain in top spot – but only just.
Even after their last-gasp victory over Hibs, Brendan Rodgers’ side remain only three points clear of their Old Firm rivals. But Rangers still have a game in hand.
How Rangers battled back into the title race
Few were predicting a closely-fought title race when Philippe Clement replaced Michael Beale at Rangers in mid-October.
He inherited a squad that was bereft of confidence, struggling in Europe and in many people’s minds out of the title race.
Celtic had stretched the gap to 10 points at one stage of the season but a 16-game unbeaten run under the Belgian saw Rangers cut that deficit to just five, with games in hand.
Just before the turn of the year, the champions responded with a controversial 2-1 win over their Old Firm rivals and Rodgers’ side were eight points clear at the summit heading into 2024.
But Rangers still had two games in hand and beat Hibernian in the first of them following the winter break before Celtic dropped points at Aberdeen to further reduce the gap.
Clement’s side then defeated Aberdeen to move level with the Hoops on 58 points after 24 games. Celtic responded with a win of their own at Hibernian and are now three points clear, having played a game more than their rivals.
Who is favourite for the title?
If only football was that simple! A few months ago, the answer was Celtic but now it really is impossible to call.
The Hoops are still in the driving seat and have the points on the board which Rangers still need to earn, with their game in hand taking place on February 14 at home to Ross County.
Both clubs will then have eight league games to navigate before the split, including another Old Firm clash. On top of that, two Scottish Cup matches could be on the horizon, plus three Europa League games for Rangers before April 13.
Celtic have shown – despite occasional frustration in the stands and their advantage slowly being eaten into – they can deliver big results when the going gets tough.
Rangers, meanwhile, have proven they are also in this race for the long haul, with results transforming and the belief at Ibrox growing.
However, as well as form, other factors come into the equation. The mentality to get over the line in a title race, playing in Glasgow’s goldfish bowl and inevitable squad issues through injuries or suspension – 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, having won back-to-back league titles during his first spell in Glasgow, including an invincible treble.
At 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 when Rangers were crowned champions on the last day of the season.
What the pundits say
Sky Sports’ Chris Sutton:
“There has been a mentality shift. You can see it. The longer Clement has been manager at the club, the belief has grown and it is getting stronger and stronger.
“There’s been a very obvious momentum swing since Clement’s arrival at Rangers. He’s building a team that is gathering belief with every week.
“Celtic have been inconsistent this season. That has been their biggest problem.”
Sky Sports’ Kris Boyd:
“We can talk about managers and all the work they put in on the training field but when you start winning games of football you start getting belief, and that is exactly what Rangers are doing at this moment in time.
“They had a bump in the road when they went to Celtic Park and got beat, but they got back on the horse and have gone again.
“Clement talks about turning up at Ibrox and everyone has a smile on their face. Everyone is expecting to win football matches at Rangers and the fans are right behind the team. They feel something is brewing.
“However, it all comes down to one thing and that is winning games of football. When that happens that is when the smiles come.
“There’s going to be a lot of chopping and changing between now and the end of the season. Twists and turns are going to happen, but the good thing for Scottish football is we’ve got a title race and we’ve not had it for a while.
“Celtic have ran away with it for years and Rangers ran away with it when they won it. I don’t think it’s the best Old Firm teams that we’ve seen, but we’re going to have excitement between now and the end of the season.”
Key fixtures and the next Old Firm
Celtic have eight league games to go before the league splits into a top and bottom half after April 13, one match less than Rangers.
On top of that, there are Scottish Cup fixtures for both to fit in, plus Europa League knockout action for Rangers – it is going to be a busy run-in.
But all eyes will be on Ibrox on April 6 when the two clubs clash in the third Old Firm clash of the season. Celtic boast a 100 per cent record in the fixture this season, a run Rangers must end if they are to boost their chances of winning the title.
An injury-hit Hoops side were victorious against Beale’s Rangers at Ibrox in September before Kyogo was the difference-maker again, helping claim a 2-1 win on December 30 in Glasgow’s East End.
There could be nothing between the teams the next time Celtic and Rangers meet, but the Old Firm know they must take care of matters in the games that precede the Ibrox clash – with one more league meeting set to follow after the split.
Why there’s more than just a trophy at stake
You might think it means 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 Scottish clubs for some time.
That is 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.
It is all to play for but it takes a certain mentality to win the league.
Rangers’ form has got them back into the race but you cannot underplay the experience Rodgers and his squad have. It really is too close to call.
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