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Can Rangers take advantage of Celtic slip-up? Title race analysed

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 Rangers have the chance to move two points clear on Sunday.

Celtic’s 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock means Philippe Clement’s side will take advantage if they beat St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, live on Sky Sports.

Brendan Rodgers’ side are currently one point ahead having played one game more.

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 2-1 win over their Old Firm rivals and Rodgers’ side were eight points clear at the summit heading into 2024.

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Highlights from December’s Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers

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.

Clement’s side then saw off Ross County to move level with the Hoops in a title race that is set to go the distance.

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 by virtue of having scored more goals than their rivals – it really is all to play for.

Both clubs have eight league games to navigate before the split, including another Old Firm clash.

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)
Image: Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic and Philippe Clement’s Rangers are battling for top spot

Celtic have shown – despite occasional frustration in the stands and their advantage slowly being eaten away – 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 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.

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

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.

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

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

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Former Celtic striker Chris Sutton says there has been a clear momentum shift since Clement arrived at Rangers

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.”

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Sky Sports’ Luke Shanley and Kris Boyd assess Rangers’ 3-1 win against Ross County as they moved level on points with Celtic at the summit

Sky Sports’ Kris Boyd:

“This title race is going to go all the way.

“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.

“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.

“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

Image: Celtic and Rangers will meet next on April 7 at Ibrox – live on Sky Sports

Celtic and Rangers have eight league games to go before the league splits into a top and bottom half after April 13 for five final matches.

On top of that, there is a Scottish Cup quarter-final for both to fit in, plus Europa League knockout action for Rangers – it is going to be a busy run-in.

All eyes will be on Ibrox on April 7 when the two clubs meet in the third Old Firm clash of the season – live on Sky Sports. 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.

As things stand there will 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

Luis Palma fired Celtic in front from the penalty spot
Image: 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 could 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
Image: Rangers beat Real Betis away to win their Europa League group and seal a last-16 spot

That is because Scotland are currently in a battle to finish 10th in UEFA’s rankings – 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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