Celtic look to continue domestic dominance as Rangers shake up side

The strange aspect of the 2021-22 season in respect of Celtic and Rangers was that age-old foes could paint a picture of contentment. Celebrations at home for one, praise across the continent for the other.

Rangers supporters had cause for frustration as they left the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in May after the Europa League final defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, knowing their team may never have a better chance to land a European trophy, but there was pride in an outstanding run. Back in Glasgow, Celtic celebrated a 10th title win in 11 attempts. This has been an era of domestic dominance by Glasgow’s green and white, a point not typically recognised, including by their own support.

As a new season dawns, Rangers are in the midst of necessary revolution. The sales of Joe Aribo and Calvin Bassey have fuelled a recruitment drive, seen by seven first-team options – John Souttar, Tom Lawrence, Malik Tillman, Antonio Colak, Rabbi Matondo, Ben Davies and Ridvan Yilmaz – arriving at Ibrox.

There is excitement about this but it should be tempered by the fact Rangers are the club playing catch-up. Ange Postecoglou’s eye-catching progress across the city returned Celtic to the position of finest team in Scotland, and the Australian did not need to preside over major summer surgery, with the permanent signings of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Jota, both successful loanees, the priority before the new season.

Intrigue surrounds what Giovanni van Bronckhorst can offer by way of a challenge. The Dutchman can provide mitigating circumstance for the events of last season – he arrived mid-season and European exertions took a toll – but the fact remains Rangers failed to successfully defend the Premiership from a front-running position at Christmas.

It would be unfair to praise Rangers’ squad for their Europa League progress while simultaneously castigating the manager because the league was tossed away. Nonetheless, hard statements about the suitability or otherwise of Van Bronckhorst for this job cannot yet be made.

The former Rangers midfielder will be relying on the dealings of his sporting director, Ross Wilson, whose signing record is patchy. This was the man, after all, who shouted loudly as Amad Diallo and Aaron Ramsey arrived at Ibrox in January. Four months, negligible impact and a title concession later, both shuffled quietly out of the door.

In Wilson’s defence, the Rangers squad that begins the new season has increased options. In contrast, having turned around the fortunes of Celtic in a matter of months, it is Postecoglou’s job to further develop existing players. Kyogo Furuhashi, the most gifted attacking player in Scotland, will inevitably attract lucrative bids if he maintains fitness and form. Matt O’Riley, Jota, Carter-Vickers and Reo Hatate delivered enough last season to suggest they will improve in familiar surroundings. Celtic have a capacity to concede goals but a routinely relentless attacking style is capable of offsetting that.

If it seems unfair to depict the championship as a two-horse race, this reflects the depressing reality. We are hurtling towards the 40th anniversary of a club outside the Old Firm winning Scotland’s top flight. The scale with which Celtic and Rangers continue to spend means that run is unlikely to end any time soon. Motherwell’s embarrassing European elimination by Sligo Rovers did nothing for the wider reputation of the Scottish game.

Hearts can look to close the gap courtesy of European revenue – the Edinburgh club are guaranteed group stage football – but scheduling challenges may take a little getting used to for Robbie Neilson and his players. It can be assumed that Aberdeen will improve under Jim Goodwin but serious questions linger over the direction of Hibs.

A black mark against Celtic’s last campaign – and a recurring feature in their recent history – was their struggles in Europe. By the time Bodø/Glimt bundled Postecoglou’s team out of the Conference League, they had been ejected from three separate continental competitions. Celtic have earned their right to feature in the Champions League proper but to what extent they can compete will prove a stern test not only of the manager but of players who have hero status at home. Postecoglou’s own aspirations will not end in Glasgow; he will view Europe’s premier club tournament as an opportunity.

First, domestic business. On the simple basis of what came not so long ago, Celtic should be the favourites to prevail.