| 11.3°C Dublin

Hoops hoping for perfect 10

Celtic have sights set on history in ferocious rivalry

Close

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Photo: PA

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Photo: PA

PA

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Photo: PA

Football leagues across the globe are preparing for a new season like no other as the world learns how to cope with Covid-19.

But Scotland will experience a momentous top-flight campaign for another reason. Realistically, either Celtic will clinch a record 10th consecutive title or Rangers will win their first championship since they emerged from the Ibrox liquidation of 2012.

Both halves of Glasgow had previously enjoyed nine successive titles before Celtic did it for a second time when last season was called to a premature end in May. Bragging rights which far transcend a normal title success are at stake.

The 1997/98 season offers a taste of what lies ahead. Wim Jansen achieved hero status in his only season in the east end of Glasgow by leading Celtic to the title and 'stopping the 10' against the odds as Henrik Larsson announced himself to the Parkhead faithful.

Heightened

The ferocity of one of world football's most relentless rivalries heightened even further. Former Celtic midfielder Paul Lambert claims nothing else in his career came close to the intensity of that season and he ranks it as his most important trophy win. This from a man who won the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund a year after leaving Motherwell without any firm offers.

However, Neil Lennon has claimed his Celtic players are not under the same duress as they were last term.

Speaking after confirmation of their latest success, the Hoops boss said: "I wouldn't say the pressure is off but it's certainly not as intense. They have equalled nine now and going for 10 is something very special and something we can all look forward to."

The heat is most certainly on at Ibrox. While Steven Gerrard has been afforded time courtesy of the years of struggles on and off the park which preceded his arrival, the former England captain will know he has to deliver trophy success after two barren years.

The Liverpool hero retains the trust of the Gers support after delivering definite improvement and securing unexpected progress in each of his two European campaigns. But the Ibrox support have been starved of a major trophy since 2011 and Gerrard faces the prospect of being revered like Jansen is in the other half of Glasgow, or known in the city as the man who failed to stop the 10.

Both managers have their challenges. Rangers' title push collapsed after New Year in each of the past two seasons and, with Jermain Defoe nursing a hamstring injury, he has to keep Alfredo Morelos motivated after the previously prolific striker struggled following the winter break.

Lennon needs a new goalkeeper and will be desperate to keep Odsonne Edouard fit and at the club, particularly after Leigh Griffiths reported for pre-season out of shape in a throwback to the days when footballers piled on the pounds during long close seasons.

The 1998 title race actually featured a third party in Hearts, who finished seven points adrift of Celtic after winning just one of their last seven matches.

Although Aberdeen and Motherwell have kept the bulk of their squads intact, the financial impact of the pandemic will make the chances of the Scottish Premiership being anything other than a two-horse race even more fanciful.