Some might tell you that Rangers handed Celtic the league trophy by losing to them today, making their quest to be Scotland´s number one team again a mathematical inevitability. However, that would imply that it was Rangers’ title to hand over, and that has not been the case for what feels like a very long time.
Celtic demolished Rangers 5-0 in Celtic Park this afternoon, with Edouard (2), Forrest, Rogic and McGregor all adding their names to the scoresheet, making this their biggest win in any Old Firm game since 1957. The win also confirms their position as champions of Scotland for the 7th time in a row, and that trend seems set to continue as the gulf between the two has never been more evident.
Rangers last won the league in the 2010/11 season and entered administration towards the summer of the very next year, followed by liquidation and relegation to the bottom tier of Scottish football, their first period outside the top flight for 140 years. Since then, their perseverance has been impressive, getting promoted 3 out of the following 4 seasons, with their match day attendances never dwindling. However, Rangers have a long road ahead of them; seven short years ago Rangers and Celtic were in different leagues in terms of division, now they are in different leagues in terms of quality.
Of course, this period of Celtic dominance plays out against the backdrop of Rangers´internal monetary woes and their financial incapability to attract higher quality players; it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that no Rangers player would get into a Celtic starting 11 these days. Having said that, since their return to the flight of Scottish football, the two sides have met 13 times, with Rangers winning 1 and drawing 2. Even taking into account the calibre of player available to them over the last few years, those stats are unacceptable for a club like Rangers.
During these barren 7 years for Rangers, they have gone through 6 different managers; even current manager Graham Murty’s days are numbered during his second spell in charge. The first team has also experienced heavy turnover, and has been a squad in transition for a number of years. This lack of experience showed in their complete capitulation in all but one Old Firm game this year; Rangers as a club have forgotten how to play this derby, and it seems like some of the players never knew how to.
Celtic are in the enviable position of being able to call on the likes of Scott Brown, Mikel Lustig, Callum McGregor and James Forrest for leadership when it matters most, all of whom have a wealth of experience in terms of what this game requires. These players are now surrounded by raw talent such as Tom Rogic, Moussa Dembélé and Odsonne Edouard. But not only do Celtic have superiority when it comes to derby experience, they possess something equally as valuable: winning experience. This group of players have won everything on offer in Scotland in the last few years, and it shows in how they approach the derby. On the other hand, the vast majority of the Rangers squad have been at the club for 2-3 years. The nous of captain Lee Wallace, the longest serving current Rangers player at 7 years, was sorely missed today. Experience counts for a lot; even more so in a derby.
Celtic will be hoping to make it another domestic treble by beating Motherwell in the Scottish Cup final next month, taking Brendan Rodgers trophy haul to 6 since taking over in 2016. By contrast, Rangers are scrapping it out with Hibernian for that last coveted European spot with a game to come against the Hibbies in Edinburgh, not to mention a tricky away game against Aberdeen.
In terms of Celtic winning the league, the writing had more or less been on the wall for the last couple of months. However, today Celtic really put on a show, and in more ways than one. As has been the case all season, the fans have been treated to a feast of energetic, free-flowing football, and today it had the bonus of being at the expense of their closest rival. However, it was also a show of strength. Celtic bullishly flexed their muscles and swatted Rangers aside with ease to further crystallize their domestic dominance. Graham Murty’s successor has a mountain to climb, with Celtic looking down from it’s peak.