Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Can Rangers catch Celtic in Scottish Premiership title race? -Dlight News

What is the state of play?

It has been a rollercoaster of a season so far.

Celtic had been in pole position from the first weekend of the campaign as they pulled away from a Rangers side struggling under Michael Beale.

However, when Philippe Clement took over at Ibrox, that gap started to close and by mid-February Rangers found themselves leading the way.

That lasted for around a month until the Hoops once again found themselves in top spot – a position they have not let go of since.

A 3-3 draw between the teams at Ibrox, followed by Rangers losing at Ross County and drawing in Dundee, mean Brendan Rodgers’ side are now three points clear at the summit with five games to go.

Both clubs are live on Sky Sports on Sunday – with another round of games to follow before the two teams meet once again at Celtic Park on May 11.

Who are favourites for the title?

During parts of this campaign, it really has been impossible to call. However, with just five games to go, Celtic are in the driving seat.

As well as leading their rivals by three points – they will also have home advantage when the teams meet for the final time in the league this season on May 11 – live on Sky Sports.

However, if the past eight months have taught us anything, then there is still every chance another twist in the tale could be on the horizon.

Going back to October when Clement replaced Beale, few were predicting a closely-fought title race. He inherited a squad that was bereft of confidence and struggling in Europe.

However, cue a 16-game unbeaten run under the Belgian and Celtic’s seven-point gap was standing at five, and crucially Rangers had two games in hand.

Just before the turn of the year, the champions responded with a 2-1 win over their Old Firm rivals and Rodgers’ side were eight points clear at the summit heading into 2024.

It was then Rangers’ turn to hit back and they won both their games in hand following the winter break, while Celtic dropped points at Aberdeen – allowing Rangers to draw level at the top.

When the Hoops faltered again by drawing at home to Kilmarnock, Rangers moved clear at the summit for the first time this season by beating St Johnstone 24 hours later.

More proof that there would be twists and turns ahead came on the opening weekend of March. Both clubs lost on the same weekend in the Premiership for the first time since 2018 as Motherwell won 2-1 at Ibrox giving Celtic the advantage – only for Hearts to beat Rodgers’ side 2-0 at Tynecastle Park.

The Hoops did return to the top in March and then left Ibrox with a point after a pulsating Old Firm clash that finished 3-3. The gap remained at one point, with second-place Rangers having a game in hand.

Cue another shock. Celtic beat St Mirren to go four points clear, but the next day Rangers lost at Ross County for the first time in the league and followed that up with a draw at Dundee.

Clement’s side are winless in three in the league – three points behind Celtic and face a visit to their rivals next month.

Celtic look well placed to retain the title – but good luck to you if you want to predict exactly how things will play out from here.

The key fixtures ahead

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 30: Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers and Rangers Manager Philippe Clement  during a cinch Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park, on December 30, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
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Rodgers’ Celtic and Clement’s Rangers will meet again at Parkhead on May 11

Both clubs have five post-split fixtures to go starting on Sunday – live on Sky Sports.

Rangers will look to close the gap for a couple of hours when they visit St Mirren (kick-off 12.30pm) before Celtic then head to Dundee (kick-off 3pm).

There are tricky home matches next as Celtic host Hearts on May 4, while Rangers take on Kilmarnock at Ibrox on May 5 – live on Sky Sports.

Then all eyes turn to Celtic Park on May 11 as the Old Firm meet for the final time in the league this season – live on Sky Sports – in a game that could decide where the title ends up.

Rangers are first in action after that derby clash with a home game against Dundee on May 14, while Celtic then face a trip to Kilmarnock the next day – live on Sky Sports.

It all comes to an end on May 18 when one of the two clubs will be presented with the trophy. Celtic are at home to St Mirren while Rangers are at Hearts.

What the pundits say

Sky Sports’ Chris Sutton:

“I have been really impressed with Philippe Clement up until sort of now. I don’t know what game he was watching to call Dundee lucky. They were not lucky.

“He did say Rangers lacked a spark and people should not jump to conclusions. The conclusion is in a huge game, a huge couple of games, Rangers have not stepped up when they needed to most.

“It’s come to the business end of the season and they needed to build momentum and they are losing it at this moment in time.

“We know second is last in Glasgow. We saw the reaction of the Rangers fans at the end. They are not happy. He’s got this Rangers team back into a title race, then all of a sudden they are crumbling.”

Sky Sports’ Kris Boyd:

“For Rangers to go to Celtic Park needing to win is going to be really difficult.

“The results haven’t been good enough, it’s the wrong time of the season to start dropping points and losing games.

“Rangers can go and win that game at Celtic Park now and it’s still irrelevant. There are five goals in it as well. I just can’t see any way back for Rangers now.

“Philippe Clement has managed to squeeze every last ounce out of the players since he came in. You just wonder if maybe now it’s catching up with them.”

Why there’s more than just a trophy at stake

Luis Palma fired Celtic in front from the penalty spot
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Celtic were in the Champions League group stage this season after winning the title

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 will be the last season an automatic spot is up for grabs for Scottish clubs for some time.

Rangers' Cyriel Dessers celebrates with Abdallah Sima as he scores to make it 2-1 vs Real Betis
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Rangers beat Real Betis away to win their Europa League group and seal a last-16 spot before losing to Benfica

That is because Scotland has fallen out of the top 10 in UEFA’s coefficient rankings which means next season’s league winners will need to play a play-off to enter the group stages, while second place face three qualifying rounds.

Then from 2026/27 it gets even worse with just one spot for the league winner who will likely face three qualifying rounds.

It is all to play for, not just for silverware but also European football and a chance to mix it with some of the greats once again.

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