Scottish Premiership Title Race Heats Up As Celtic Aim To Chase Down Rangers

Celtic will need to embark on a blistering run to catch up with their Old Firm rivals
17:55, 16 Jan 2022

After a three-week hiatus, the Scottish Premiership returns with a full midweek card. Rangers hold a six-point advantage at the summit, and Celtic aim to chase down their fierce rivals.

Celtic host Hibernian on Monday night, and Rangers will make the long trip north to face Aberdeen the following evening.

The trophy destination has rarely been in jeopardy following the winter break in the last decade. Insurmountable leads tend to develop, and tension-filled battles for supremacy have been scarce.

For Celtic to prevent another procession, the current gap cannot increase. Their position is precarious, and they have limited scope for error as they try to dislodge the defending champions.

In the last five completed seasons, the eventual winners have ended the campaign with an average of 92 points. Rangers are on course to surge beyond the 90-point barrier, but Celtic will need to embark on a blistering run to join them.

An injury crisis weakened the Parkhead club in the lead up to the winter break - and they swiftly addressed the need for reinforcements with the acquisitions of Daizen Maeda, Yosuke Ideguchi and Reo Hatate from Japan.

The trio will provide added squad depth, and how quickly they adjust to the hustle and bustle of the Scottish scene will determine their short-term involvement.

The January recruitment drive is unlikely to be over, with the midfield being a potential area Ange Postecoglou will look to strengthen. The Australian has been backed financially - his outlay has been significant - and he is unlikely to deviate from an aggressive transfer policy.

Seldom does a club benefit from their manager being poached mid-campaign, but the departure of Steven Gerrard has aided, rather than hindered, Rangers' cause. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst has enjoyed a flawless beginning - and efficiency has replaced early-season disjointedness.​​​​​​

Rangers boss Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
Rangers boss Giovanni Van Bronckhorst

The Ibrox club have struggled to capture their best form following the two previous winter breaks - there was no interval last year - and they will be wary on the resumption as they look to remain clear of the chasing pack. 

There is little commotion emanating from Govan these days. Calmness has replaced chaos, and a plan is being followed. The familiarity in formation and personnel has served them well, and one league defeat in 59 games highlights their robustness.

Minor tinkering is expected this month, with Van Bronckhorst content with the majority of his squad. A right-forward is sought, and it will be fascinating to see what percentage of the record fee banked from the Nathan Patterson sale is reinvested.

The winter break usually follows the traditional New Year derby. This month's clash was postponed though, and the most intense fixture in the British game will dominate the agenda for the remainder of the campaign.

Celtic have failed to topple their city counterparts in the last seven encounters, and their title aspirations will evaporate if the pattern continues. Eighteen fixtures remain, and the story of three derby clashes is still to unfold.

Last season was deemed the most significant title race in years as Celtic chased an unprecedented tenth title in a row. Rangers thwarted their rivals with a memorable unbeaten campaign to end their trophy-drought, yet the latest scrap for bragging rights is of greater financial worth.

The league winners are likely to be assured direct entry into the Champions League group stages next season. The lucrative prize will support a summer spending splurge, while the runners-up will have to be more circumspect.

The financial ramifications of this season are weighty, and it could impact next year's title race and beyond. Rangers hold the advantage, and it is up to Celtic to apply pressure and test their mettle.

Celtic host Rangers in just over a fortnight - and three points for the leaders will kill any notion of a legitimate fight for the championship.

Celtic are 13/8 to win the title with Betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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