The Scottish Premier League is experiencing something that it hasn’t seen for a long time. Celtic’s time of dominance seems to be getting closer and closer to an end, with their defensive frailties now being exposed more than ever, whilst their Old Firm rivals Rangers seem to be in the best form they have been in for a long time. Is there a new chapter around the corner in the old rivalry’s story?
Rangers appointing Steven Gerrard as their new manager was a decision that sparked interest and a raised eye by many, but he has gone in and has shaken the club up in the right way, disposing of some of the old squad, and bringing in players with the right qualities to get the results that Rangers needed. What Gerrard has done so well and cleverly is that he has made signings that have been underwhelming not in quality but in name. Who had heard of Nikola Katic or Umar Sadiq before they moved to Rangers this summer? Who would have thought that the likes of Liverpool loanees Ovie Ejaria and Ryan Kent would be playing regularly at such a huge club so soon in their careers? Who would have thought that Rangers would move for one of their old boys in Kyle Lafferty from Hearts, when he had left following Rangers’ entry into administration all those years ago? Who would have thought that the first person on the team sheet nowadays is probably Connor Goldson, someone who was really only a bit part player at Brighton following his move to the Amex from Shrewsbury Town, and who has now established himself as a force both in defence and in attacking set-pieces. Gerrard has worked miracles, and the fact that Rangers are now breathing on the Europa League group stages demonstrates this, because that is another thing that most people thought Rangers would never be in again. It’s amazing to witness and for the sake of entertainment, we hope it goes on.
Their traditional rivals, though, are not in such a good place at the moment. Celtic have had many consecutive seasons, probably since Rangers entered administration and exited the old Premiership, of being the undisputed top dog. Their closest rivals have been Aberdeen, with Hearts and more recently Hibernian providing the next closest opposition, but none of those can realistically financially compete with the Hoops, and so Celtic have been able to just buy players to secure the title every year and then repeat this, and most games have not been a struggle for them. But this year, something has changed. I think they have got too comfortable, and now they haven’t got many new players in, they are looking very shabby and outdated. Defensively in particular, Jack Hendry has made a pleasing start to the season, with his defensive partner Kristoffer Ajer, in the early Champions League qualifiers, but since he has been out, Jozo Simunovic has come in and the defence seems to have collapsed. Mikael Lustig has also been replaced at right-back by Costa Rica international Cristian Gamboa in recent games, but this has proved to be ineffective too. They desperately need to add something there before the Scottish transfer deadline on 31st August, and with several bids for Aberdeen’s Scotland centre-back Jack McKenna being turned down by the Dons, they will have to find some other options and quickly.
In attack, they have signed Odsonne Edouard on a permanent deal following his successful loan spell at Celtic Park last season, and young Australia winger Daniel Arzani on a two-year loan deal, but that is it really. A failed move for Hibs midfielder John McGinn meant that they now look very light in that area, and that is concerning for a club like Celtic that will be competing in the Europa League (should they get past their qualifier with last season’s Lithuanian league champions Suduva) as well as the Premier League, the Scottish League Cup and Scottish Cup. They have become too complacent, and this season it has hit them hard. Manager Brendan Rodgers is quite obviously not happy with the lack of investment in new players from the board, and it is never a good sign when the manager isn’t getting the players he wants. Celtic as a club need to act or there may well be a change of powers at the top of the Scottish Premier League this season.