The Rangers people must be tired of Celtic chasing at this point. They run hard only to stand still. They win game after game in the Scottish Premiership, but the gap at the top never changes. They are an improved force in the league under Michael Beale, but push on a still object in Ange Postecoglou’s team.
Every sacking in the south seems to spark new waves of speculation surrounding the Celtic manager, with much linking him with a move. In recent times, whether real or imagined, the Australian has reportedly been ‘on the radar’ for Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds United, Everton, Southampton, Brighton and Wolves.
Every time these stories appear, there must be a thrill at Ibrox that it might be on its way.
If there had never been a Postecoglou at Celtic, there would probably never have been Reo Hatate to inspire them with two goals in a 3-0 win in the Old Firm game in February 2022, no Liel Abada to score two in the 4-0 rout last September and none Kyogo Furuhashi to score a brace in the League Cup final in February.
But Postecoglou remains in Glasgow. Happy, motivated and a monumental spine alongside Rangers.
In December, Celtic drew 0-0 against Aberdeen at Pittodrie with three minutes remaining. A breakthrough for Rangers in the title race? No. Callum McGregor scored a late winner.
In January at Ibrox, Rangers led 2-1 with two minutes remaining in the previous Old Firm Premiership game. A big moment for Beale and the fans? Not yet. Kyogo came with an equalizer. In March, St Mirren led 1-0 as the hour mark approached, but Celtic have scored five times since then.
Later in the month, Hibernian held them 1-1 with nine minutes remaining. Celtic won 3-1. Every time Rangers saw a light in the league, someone from the Postecoglou team came to put it out. Rangers must be tired of it all by now.
If they aren’t already shattered, the defeat at Celtic Park on Saturday will certainly finish them off. That would give the champions a 12-point lead. Postecoglou could play the kids for the rest of the season and expect to retain the title.
Beale has done everything any reasonable person would expect of him since taking over at Ibrox. Fourteen wins and a draw in 15 league games as a coach. Forty-three points out of a possible 45. Forty goals scored and 13 conceded.
If – and it’s a big if – the Rangers win each of their remaining eight games, they will finish with 100 points. It still wouldn’t be enough if Celtic won six of their eight games. Their season has been ruthlessly consistent.
If the Postecoglou players were even a little behind, Rangers could have convinced them of the results they got under Beale, but they haven’t advanced an inch in the table. They actually fell back, on goal difference.
Some of the club’s supporters are angry and want some heads to roll behind the scenes, but the reality is that Rangers are on their best run in the Premiership since winning the title under Steven Gerrard. Rangers’ problem isn’t their results over the past five months, it’s Celtic’s relentless nature.
Rangers are good, but not good enough. The impact of their life in a footballing no man’s land on their summer activities will be intriguing. Are we talking about adjustments to the squad or a complete rebuild?
Celtic have brought in a ton of players under Postecoglou, but their net outlay in the market has been incredibly small, coming in at around £8m. The management of the club has been exceptional.
From the ashes of the failed bid for 10-in-a-row, a dynamic new team has been created. They’re a team with a good age profile, with enough of us to deliver in the present and enough promise to be sold at a profit in the future.
Postecoglou knew exactly what kind of players he was looking for and where to find them. Do the Rangers have the same wisdom? Beale has decisions to make.
He has eight players out of contract this summer, many of whom have big money, some of them contributing little or nothing.
Filip Helander and Steven Davis will leave. Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield aren’t regular starters and Rangers need better. Allan McGregor is 41 years old and will surely retire after a tremendous career.
If Beale lets most, if not all, of them go, he has a salary of £10-15m a year to play with. Does Ryan Kent offer value for the big money he’s on? Has the time finally come for Alfredo Morelos? Is Malik Tillman worth the £4-6m it would take to land him on a permanent contract with Bayern Munich?
Can he find pearls? He says there are “no restrictions” on his budget. Saying it out loud doesn’t make it that way. It’s going to be brutally difficult for Beale.
He has Saturday to deal with before then, and the odds are firmly against Rangers. The last three meetings at Celtic Park have ended 4-0, 1-1 and 3-0. Seven of Celtic’s eight goals in those games have come in the first half.
It’s not as if Rangers haven’t been warned of what could happen to them, on the pitch and in the stands. With no fans out to cheer them on, it’s 11 to 60,011. What better way to have an Old Firm game than in the heart of a furnace?