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Old Firm

THERE has been a title race – a real title race – in the Scottish top flight for 13 years. Indeed, the 2010/11 season was the last time Celtic and Rangers truly went head-to-head at the top of the table. Back then, just one point separated the two rivals and it’s possible this season could be decided by a similar slim margin.

Old Firm derbies always matter, but Sunday’s meeting at Ibrox will be the most consequential in years. Celtic enter the match at Ibrox with a one-point advantage. Rangers, however, have a game in-hand. A derby win for either team could be a defining moment in the best Scottish title race for a generation.

Few envisaged Rangers would be in this position after they made such an underwhelming start to the campaign. Indeed, Rangers trailed Celtic by seven points at the time of Michael Beale’s sacking in October with the common assumption that Brendan Rodgers’ team would stroll to another Scottish Premiership title.

Under Philippe Clement, though, the landscape has shifted. Rangers have lost just two of their 22 league games with the Belgian at the helm, having pointed the Ibrox club in the right direction again. Celtic are currently top of the table yet many view Rangers as the title favourites considering how they have reeled in their rivals.


Clement is maximising the talent within his squad. Under Beale, Cyriel Dessers was a frequent target for criticism and derision. Now, though, the Nigerian international has 17 goals in all competitions to his name. John Lundstram is another Rangers player who has found his best form since the departure of Beale.

The signings of Mohamed Diomande and Fabio Silva in the January transfer window added quality to the Ibrox ranks with the former already a central pillar of Clement’s midfield. Rangers have played within themselves for much of the season, but Clement is leading the Govan club with authority. They are a force again.    

Celtic are a force too, although their recent form has been patchy. Defeats to Kilmarnock and Hearts before Christmas exposed the vulnerabilities in Rodgers’ team with a further defeat to Hearts in March and dropped points to Aberdeen and Kilmarnock handing the initiative to Rangers in the title race.

Following a January window of inaction, Celtic fans turned against their club’s own leadership. The board was accused of hoarding transfer funds. They believed, with some justification, that more, higher-calibre signings should have been made. Rodgers himself faced questions over his future. The Northern Irishman came across as disinterested in the job he returned to last summer. 

Since then, Rodgers has steadied the ship. The return of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Reo Hatate from injury has helped with both players now back in the lineup. Rodgers has also figured out a way to utilise Kyogo Furuhashi, the Japanese forward who was playing well below his usual level until recently. Now, Furuhashi is a threat again – just as he was under Ange Postecoglou.

No matter what happens on Sunday, there will many twists and turns in the Scottish Premiership title race between now and the end of the season. Celtic and Rangers both have their flaws and that’s one of the things that has made their tussle so exciting – and there will be more drama over the next two months. Nothing will be decided on Sunday.

Nonetheless, this weekend’s Old Firm derby will set the tone for the home straight of the title race. It promises to be a blockbuster occasion with plenty on the line to motivate both teams. After 13 years of keeping their distance, Celtic and Rangers have finally been pushed together again in a title race for the ages.

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