Ciaran Vance previews Celtic and Rangers’ weekend fixtures as the Scottish Premiership gets back under way after the international break.
Just over a month ago Celtic and Rangers went into the international break with plenty to ponder. Celtic had just won the first Old Firm derby of the season, at Ibrox, and were now sitting top of the league, three points clear.
The match was billed as the first genuine Old Firm contest in years and bookmakers had Rangers down as favourites. Truth be told, they never laid a glove on Celtic and the scoreline probably flattered the home side. After the match, Neil Lennon said Celtic had sent out a message of ‘catch us if you can’.
Fast-forward six weeks, four domestic league fixtures and two international breaks and it is Celtic who are now hoping to catch Rangers. After a 1-1 draw with Hibs and a 2-0 defeat to Livingston, Celtic sit two points behind Rangers, who have won their last four league matches since that Old Firm by an aggregate scoreline of 17-1.
Celtic play Ross County at home on Saturday and will be hoping to bounce back from their latest setback and put the pressure on Rangers, who travel to Hearts a day later. Both teams will have one eye on Thursday’s Europa League fixtures as they both still sit in a strong position to make it through to the next round.
However, domestic football comes first and there is no doubt Rangers will be looking for a win to keep their noses in front of their city rivals.
Ryan Kent was pictured back in training this week and may play a part on Sunday, although Steven Gerrard will be keen to ease him back in. Kent, signed for £7m from Liverpool in the summer, was Rangers’ statement of intent for this year and there will be no rush to play him if he is not ready. Alfredo Morelos will be hoping to return to the score-sheet after failing to find the net in his two appearances for the Colombian senior squad.
Celtic will welcome back Odsonne Edouard who continues to impress for the France U21 squad, scoring a hat-trick on Tuesday night to take his international tally to nine goals in four games. Ryan Christie, arguably Celtic’s most important player this season, is suspended following his dismissal at Livingston last week.
Celtic have four league games before the next international break, with three at home around an away trip to Aberdeen. Rangers are the opposite, with three away games out of four, with their last being a trip to face Livingston.
Rangers will be keen to extend their stay at the top of the table and will hope to still be there when the next international break comes around. Whether they are or not remains to be seen, however what is promised is the most exciting Scottish title race in years.
Follow Ciaran on Twitter at @ciaranmvance