Celtic could achieve a 10-in-a-row of a different kind on Sunday if they are victorious in a titanic League Cup final battle with Rangers.
Ever since their arch-rivals went bust in 2012, the focus has been squarely on The Hoops quest to break the Scottish record for consecutive league titles. Each half of the Old Firm have achieved nine-in-a-row once; Celtic in the 60s/70s and Rangers in the 90s. Neil Lennon’s men are potentially just two years away from eclipsing that and can whet their fans’ appetites a little more this weekend.
Last season’s Scottish Cup final win over Hearts ensured a ninth straight domestic trophy would be heading back to Parkhead. Now, they could extend that run to 10. To do so, they must overcome their toughest challenge yet in the shape of Steven Gerrard’s Rangers.
Highly motivated Rangers to provide stern competition
At no point in the last seven years have Celtic faced as strong a domestic opponent. A narrow midweek win over Hamilton – coupled with Rangers dropping points against Aberdeen – has given them a smidgen of breathing space at the top of the SPFL table. Before that, the pair had been matching each other stride for stride points-wise since game week nine. During that time, they had never been separated by more than three goals.
In January, Gerrard called for Rangers to find the consistency that has eluded them since their return to the top-flight. They have now found that, and more. As most of the other top-six contenders have weakened, Rangers have massively strengthened. Opponents are being swatted aside in the same style Celtic have been doing for years. Over 31 games in three competitions, they have only suffered defeat twice (Transfermarkt). One of those was, of course, in the last Old Firm derby at Ibrox, but their improvement is clear to see.
A draw in their final Europa League group game at home to Young Boys would provide the Gers with European football post-Christmas. It would be the first time both halves of the Old Firm have managed that together since 2008 (The Scotsman).
A first major trophy since the onset of the disastrous Craig Whyte era would be a watershed moment in their history. The added incentive of doing it against Celtic means that motivation levels at Ibrox couldn’t be higher.
Edouard vs Morelos
Much of the media narrative this season has been built around a perceived battle between Odsonne Edouard and Alfredo Morelos. The argument for Morelos boils down to his relentless goalscoring while Edouard is considered to have a stronger all-round game. What is inarguable, though, is both players importance to their respective teams.
Crucially for Rangers, Morelos seems to have sorted the disciplinary issues that blighted him last year. The Colombian has already scored 25 times this season and successfully avoided any red cards. Those numbers have prompted claims from Govan that he wouldn’t even be available to sell for £50m. Despite failing to find the net in all 10 of his derby appearances, Morelos is the man Celtic’s defenders must be most wary of.
While Lennon publicly refused to be drawn by the allure of this fixture and insisted all focus was on the league, his actions regarding Edouard suggest otherwise. The Frenchman has missed Celtic’s last three games with what has only been described as “a niggle”. Whether he’d have been wrapped in this much cotton wool without an Old Firm final on the horizon is debatable. He resumed light training this week and will surely lead the line on Sunday.
Edouard has demonstrated his propensity for the big occasion many times already in his short Celtic career. Adding to his record of five goals in seven Old Firms and taking home another medal could put an end to the Morelos debate once and for all.
Scott Brown looking to lift another trophy
The sight of Brown ascending the Hampden steps has become a familiar one in recent times. Now in his 12th season, the Celtic skipper’s influence only seems to be growing. Lennon hailed him as a “modern day great” after his injury-time winner sparked delirious scenes inside Celtic Park on Tuesday night.
BROONY UNIQUE ANGLE
Captain. Leader. Legend 🍀 pic.twitter.com/eEfgmqnybq
— Celtic TV (@CelticTV) December 4, 2019
Retirement from international duty was a blow for Scotland but has been a huge boost for Celtic. His 34-year old legs now have ample recovery time at key parts of the season. Any bad performances from him over the last few years have typically been met with shouts that he is finished. Brown thrives on proving such statements wrong (Scottish Sun). He has already collected 20 trophies in Paradise (Transfermarkt); another on Sunday would see him become the club’s fifth-most decorated player of all time.
This game could decide more than just the destination of the League Cup. Celtic’s incredible run in domestic competitions will surely come to an end sooner rather than later. But ahead of a busy festive period and with Rangers breathing down their necks, this is not the time for it to happen. The winners will be granted not just the spoils, but a major psychological boost in the title race.