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Scottish Premiership title race: Celtic or Rangers in the driving seat?

A look at the battle for Scotland's top spot, including the key fixtures ahead, the thoughts of Sky Sports' Kris Boyd and Chris Sutton, plus much more; watch Rangers vs Celtic on Sunday live on Sky Sports from 11am, kick-off noon

What is the state of play?

It has been a rollercoaster of a season so far.

Celtic had been in pole position from the first weekend of the campaign, but in mid-February Rangers found themselves in top spot.

That lasted for a month until their game at Dundee was postponed which allowed Brendan Rodgers' side to return to the summit by a point - albeit having played a game more.

Now - all eyes turn to Ibrox ahead of the third meeting between the sides - live on Sky Sports this Sunday.

How Rangers battled back into the title race

Rangers have won their last 10 Premiership matches
Image: Rangers were seven points behind Celtic when Philippe Clement arrived

Few were predicting a closely-fought title race when Philippe Clement replaced Michael Beale at Rangers in October.

He inherited a squad that was bereft of confidence, struggling in Europe and in many people's minds out of the title race.

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Michael Beale reflects on his time at Rangers and applauds Clement for the job he has done this season

Celtic were seven points clear when the Belgian arrived but a 16-game unbeaten run saw Rangers cut that deficit to just five, with two games in hand.

Just before the turn of the year, the champions responded with a 2-1 win over their Old Firm rivals and Rodgers' side were eight points clear at the summit heading into 2024.

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Highlights from December's Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers

But Rangers still had two games in hand and won them both following the winter break, while Celtic dropped points at Aberdeen - allowing Rangers to draw level at the top.

When the Hoops faltered again by drawing at home to Kilmarnock, Rangers moved clear at the summit for the first time this season by beating St Johnstone 24 hours later.

However, if you need proof that there will be plenty of twists and turns ahead, look no further than the opening weekend of March. Both clubs lost on the same weekend in the Premiership for the first time since 2018 as Motherwell won 2-1 at Ibrox giving Celtic the chance to return to the top - only for Hearts to beat Rodgers' side 2-0 at Tynecastle Park.

The Hoops did move a point clear at the top in March after beating St Johnstone - albeit Rangers have a game in hand as their game at Dundee was postponed.

To add to the drama, next up for both is the small matter of an Old Firm at Ibrox. Strap yourselves in - this title race is going all the way!

Who is favourite for the title?

If only football was that simple! In December the answer was Celtic, come February and Rangers had edged ahead, but now with less than 10 games to go - it really is impossible to call.

Rangers have three league games to navigate before the split - one more than Celtic - with their next match the huge Old Firm clash at Ibrox on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.

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Clement's side have taken six more points in the league than their rivals since his appointment. Rangers have proven they will be in this title race until the end and the belief is growing.

The message from the blue side is 'one game at a time' but fans are starting to dream of adding more silverware to the trophy cabinet and ending Celtic's quest for three-in-a-row.

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Rangers last won the league title in 2021 - ending a long 10-year wait

However, disregard Celtic at your peril. While their advantage may have evaporated - they have navigated choppy waters and the goals are flowing again.

Rodgers' side have scored 20 times in their last six games and are hitting form at the right time.

As well as results - other things come into the equation too: the mentality to get over the line in a title race, playing in Glasgow's goldfish bowl and inevitable squad issues through injuries or suspension - a lot can change.

Whatever lies ahead - the Hoops are boosted by the return of key players like Alistair Johnston, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Reo Hatate from injury.

They have also got experience to call upon. Over the last 12 seasons, Celtic have won the league 11 times with Rangers claiming just one in 2020/21 as they stopped their rivals clinching a 10th consecutive title.

Several members of Rodgers' squad know what it takes to get over the line, as does the manager himself, having won back-to-back league titles during his first spell in Glasgow, including an invincible treble.

Brendan Rodgers won two league titles during his first spell as Celtic manager
Image: Brendan Rodgers won two league titles during his first spell as Celtic manager

At first glance, league tables in recent years, such as 2022, may suggest there have been some close battles for Scotland's top spot. However, in reality, that title was sewn up comfortably and you need to go back to 2010/11 for the last genuine title race when Rangers were crowned champions on the last day of the season.

What the pundits say

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Kris Boyd and Chris Sutton look ahead to Sunday's Old Firm clash between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox - live on Sky Sports

Sky Sports' Chris Sutton:

"The fact of the matter is Celtic have messed up and messed up badly this season. They've beaten Rangers twice and they've let an eight-point lead go, and Rangers have dragged that back on them.

"I'm quite excited - it is not often there has been a title race in the last number of seasons, so it is all about who holds their nerve.

"That trip to Ibrox is the acid test. Rangers are bullish and don't think they're going to lose it from their position so it is up to Celtic to prove everyone wrong.

"We've got one hell of a title race on in Scotland this season."

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 30: Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers and Rangers Manager Philippe Clement  during a cinch Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park, on December 30, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Image: Rodgers' Celtic and Clement's Rangers are battling for top spot

Sky Sports' Kris Boyd:

"Under Michael Beale, there was too much football played, and I don't think Philippe Clement looks at it and wants to be the best passing team in the league. It doesn't really bother him. The most important thing is to win the game of football.

"There has been comparisons with Clement and Walter Smith, in terms of the way they went about their business, and I can understand why.

"Clement's been over the course and distance. He knows exactly what it takes to win trophies and he's sensible in what he's saying, week by week and game by game.

"There will be more twists and turns between now and the end of the season, there's no doubt about that, but Rangers are in a good place at this moment in time."

The Old Firm clashes this season

Image: Celtic have won both league meetings against Rangers this season

They say form counts for nothing when the Old Firm collide. Ahead of Sunday's fixture, Rangers will be hoping that is the case.

Celtic boast a 100 per cent record in the match-up this season, a run Rangers must end if they are to boost their chances of winning the title.

An injury-hit Hoops side were victorious against Beale's Rangers at Ibrox in September before Kyogo was the difference-maker again, helping claim a 2-1 win on December 30 in Glasgow's East End.

After Sunday's clash, Rangers' rescheduled game against Dundee takes place on April 10 - live on Sky Sports - before Celtic then face St Mirren on April 13 and Ross County host the Gers on April 14 - live on Sky Sports - ahead of the league split.

Why there's more than just a trophy at stake

Luis Palma fired Celtic in front from the penalty spot
Image: Celtic were in the Champions League group stage this season after winning the title

You might think it means pride here - and yes there is that. However, Champions League football is also up for grabs with this season's league winners guaranteed a group-stage spot and big prize money: at least £35m.

However, due to the UEFA coefficient rankings, it could be the last season an automatic spot is up for grabs for Scottish clubs for some time.

Rangers' Cyriel Dessers celebrates with Abdallah Sima as he scores to make it 2-1 vs Real Betis
Image: Rangers beat Real Betis away to win their Europa League group and seal a last-16 spot before losing to Benfica

That is because Scotland are currently in a battle to finish 10th in UEFA's rankings - which impacts clubs in the 2025/26 campaign. Then from 2026/27 there will be no automatic places, plenty of tricky qualifiers and a huge dent in cash available for clubs to strengthen and compete in Europe.

It is all to play for but it takes a certain mentality to win the league.

Rangers' form has got them back into the race but you cannot underplay the experience Rodgers and his squad have. It really is too close to call.

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