Title race on if Rangers were to beat Celtic next weekend

If Rangers beat Celtic at Ibrox next Sunday then the Scottish Premiership suddenly has a title challenge.

Of course, I understand why Brendan Rodgers is saying the heat is on Rangers due to their home form.

But I don’t think Celtic, in the Rodgers era, have ever faced as much pressure in the league as they will next Sunday. If they lose – and the gap is cut to just three points – it would become immense.

Graeme Murty revealed Rangers cheered after being drawn to face Celtic in the Scottish Cup

Graeme Murty revealed Rangers cheered after being drawn to face Celtic in the Scottish Cup

Graeme Murty revealed Rangers cheered after being drawn to face Celtic in the Scottish Cup

It was amazing to watch Celtic sweep their rivals aside last season. They were so good, you didn’t expect anyone to beat them.

This season, however, they have been beaten by Hearts and Kilmarnock and dropped points against Hibs (twice), St Johnstone (twice) Motherwell and Rangers. They are not the dominant force of a year ago.

Of course, they are still the title favourites – and rightly so. They have the biggest budget, the best players and, quite clearly, the best manager. They are not on a wobble, either.

A 4-1 thrashing of Falkirk saw them secure their place in the last four of the competition 

A 4-1 thrashing of Falkirk saw them secure their place in the last four of the competition 

A 4-1 thrashing of Falkirk saw them secure their place in the last four of the competition 

They are just not playing with the same attacking flair or the intense speed that they showed last season when they had a fully-fit Tom Rogic and Patrick Roberts – and James Forrest and Scott Sinclair were firing on all cylinders.

They have had to play a phenomenal amount of football this season and that’s been tough for them. Lately, they’ve been getting through games rather than playing exciting football.

I watched the first half of their 3-0 win over Morton in the Scottish Cup on Saturday and it was flat. Sinclair was taken off at half-time, perhaps with one eye on Ibrox next Sunday. But the intensity was not there.

Jason Cummings struck the first hat-trick of his senior career while an own goal sealed the win

Jason Cummings struck the first hat-trick of his senior career while an own goal sealed the win

Jason Cummings struck the first hat-trick of his senior career while an own goal sealed the win

It was all a bit pedestrian until Odsonne Edouard came on and Celtic went two up top. Only then did they find their zip and spark. But, as a team, they have been lacking something recently.

And if Rangers were to beat them on Sunday then, for the first time in six years, we have a title race on our hands.

The whole league would get a lift from that. Other teams will be looking at Celtic in the remaining games and thinking: ‘We can get into them here.’ It would be fascinating.

I remember playing for Celtic against Rangers for the first time since the Ibrox club’s financial collapse in 2012. It was February 2015 and we beat them easily, 2-0 in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden.

Yet, 14 months later, Rangers beat us on penalties in the Scottish Cup semi-final under Mark Warburton and it felt they had come on as a team.

Brendan Rodgers insists Rangers will be under 'huge pressure' in next Sunday's Old Firm derby

Brendan Rodgers insists Rangers will be under 'huge pressure' in next Sunday's Old Firm derby

Brendan Rodgers insists Rangers will be under ‘huge pressure’ in next Sunday’s Old Firm derby

Then you think back to last April, when Warburton was gone and Celtic were winning 5-1 at Ibrox on their way to finishing 39 points ahead of Rangers.

But, over the weekend, I have heard people talking on the radio about the potential for Rangers to win a double this season.

And when the semi-final draw was made at Ibrox on Sunday, there were roars coming from the home dressing room. They were delighted to have been drawn against Celtic. They want to play them.

Regardless of what happens, what a difference a year has made for the Ibrox club.

Should Graeme Murty get the Rangers job if they win next weekend? That depends. Three of his key players, Russell Martin, Sean Goss and Jamie Murphy – who remains likely to start ahead of hat-trick hero Jason Cummings next weekend – are all on loan and may not be there next season. So it’s a difficult one. It could be one step forward and two back for the Ibrox side.

Celtic are safely through to the Scottish Cup semi-finals after a brace from Moussa Dembele

Celtic are safely through to the Scottish Cup semi-finals after a brace from Moussa Dembele

Celtic are safely through to the Scottish Cup semi-finals after a brace from Moussa Dembele

I still think it will take a huge investment in the Rangers squad to get them close to Celtic.

The Parkhead club are in a strong position and they have key players coming back from injury at a crucial time of the season.

Rodgers, of course, remains on track for back-to-back Trebles.

If he achieves that, then his standing will have risen once more through his involvement in Scottish football.

Last week, it was reported that he was on a shortlist for the Arsenal job.

And if he can sweep the board again in Scotland, why wouldn’t one of the top clubs in England consider him?

All in all, one thing is certain: Ibrox next Sunday has the makings of an absolutely compelling contest.

I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would play international football.

I was brought up in England but I had family north of the border – and when I got asked to play for Scotland, it took me by surprise.

I was delighted to accept and it was a real honour to pull on that dark blue strip.

If, like Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay, you have the chance of representing either Scotland or England, then you have to go with your strongest patriotic feeling.

That’s what he’s done – he’s gone with his heart – and it’s great news for Scotland.

New national boss Alex McLeish must be delighted. He must have reassured Scott that he’s got a good chance of going to a major finals with Scotland.

New national boss Alex McLeish must be delighted to have got Scott McTominay to commit

New national boss Alex McLeish must be delighted to have got Scott McTominay to commit

New national boss Alex McLeish must be delighted to have got Scott McTominay to commit

I think Scott has a bit of a Darren Fletcher look about him.

And I know from my time playing with Scotland, Darren got the respect of the lads straight away because of the level he played at in the English top flight and the Champions League.

Fletcher had the pressure of being the main man for Scotland, which he did not always have at Manchester United.

And some people will have similar great expectations for McTominay.

There’s no doubt he is a guy with great promise, so let’s all hope it ends up with his talent being showcased in a major finals with Scotland.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says Andrew Robertson should succeed Scott Brown as Scotland captain.

Brendan Rodgers thinks it should be Kieran Tierney and Kris Boyd stated last week that John McGinn at Hibs would get his vote.

They are all good candidates but, I have to say, nobody sticks out. For me, you’ve got to have been captain of a club side first. Robertson has not done that, nor has McGinn, while Tierney has only limited experience of it at Celtic.

Jurgen Klopp also believes Liverpool full back Andrew Robertson should be Scotland captain

Jurgen Klopp also believes Liverpool full back Andrew Robertson should be Scotland captain

Jurgen Klopp also believes Liverpool full back Andrew Robertson should be Scotland captain

There is a lot of responsibility as Scotland captain. He is the go-between between the manager, the coaches and the players. He has to represent his country at press conferences and he has to be able to command respect.

He has to be able to motivate in the dressing room, organise things off the park and foster a great team spirit in the squad.

The fact that nobody sticks out as a natural successor to Brown just underlines how incredibly important he has been to the national team.

He may have had his critics in the Tartan Army but over the last 13 years he has matured into an almost irreplaceable figure for Scotland, on and off the park.

His retirement leaves a big void. Whoever does eventually follow Brown as captain will have very big shoes to fill. 

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