Can Rangers challenge Celtic?

The good news is that the SFA & SPFL Joint Response group revealed only one person from 936 has tested positive for coronavirus, as Scottish football looks to get back in business for what promises to be a remarkable season.

All the Scottish Premiership sides returned to training last month and the players have been tested regularly as kick-off looms in August – just a few weeks’ time.

And with Sky Sports announcing that every team will be shown live next month, it is as good a time as any to assess how it might all end up.

This title race is a historical one. Celtic are going for a stunning 10th title in a row and will be massive favourites once again. Rangers are the only side that can seriously challenge them for the title and, the big question is, do they have what it takes?

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Former Rangers striker Kris Boyd assesses his old club’s chances of winning the Scottish Premiership, as the new fixtures are released

Former Rangers striker Kris Boyd assesses his old club’s chances of winning the Scottish Premiership, as the new fixtures are released

Last term, Celtic lost at Livingston and Rangers beat them in a memorable clash at Celtic Park, just before the winter break. But Neil Lennon’s men did what champions do, they take a defeat as if it really hurts and bounce back immediately. Crucially, they do not lose often.

Unlike previous Rangers managers over the last few years, Steven Gerrard has shown he has the players capable of winning in the most difficult venue of all on the other side of Glasgow.

But what they do not have is the mentality to grind out results no matter how tired the players are, no matter how many injuries and suspensions, and no matter how tough the opposition make it for them.

Not only did Celtic win at Ibrox last season but, unbelievably, Hamilton Accies took all three points there too. Throw in a couple of away defeats against Hearts and Kilmarnock, and a couple of draws with Aberdeen, and you can see they are some way short of matching Celtic for consistency.

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SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster explains the challenges in organising the schedule for next season’s Scottish Premiership

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster explains the challenges in organising the schedule for next season’s Scottish Premiership

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of this title race is the constant drain on both club’s finances due to the global pandemic. In this Covid-19 period of great uncertainty for all our clubs, just how they cope through this upcoming transfer window will have a huge bearing on their title prospects.

The harsh reality is that both Celtic and Rangers have been burning through millions of pounds every month since the coronavirus hit, and, with nothing coming in, you wonder how long both clubs can endure this hardship.

According to their most recent official accounts, Celtic had cash reserves of around £40m. But no club would want to continue burning through money at this alarming rate.

Celtic have an impressive recent history of buying cheap and selling for big profits; Moussa Dembele, Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster have all generated good business for the champions.

Rangers, on the other hand, have posted losses that total around a staggering £65m over the last seven years. How much longer can they continue down this road without cashing in on a star player?

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Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes says the club have ambitious targets for the new Scottish Premiership season

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes says the club have ambitious targets for the new Scottish Premiership season

It was reported recently that two-thirds of Rangers’ total income comes from matchday revenue, with Celtic’s pegged around 45 per cent. The only way to address that shortfall is to sell an asset, however unwanted that may be.

Remember, the likelihood is there will be no sell-out crowds at Celtic Park or Ibrox this year. According to the Scottish government, there is a possibility of some fans being allowed to return to stadiums around October.

But with no sell-out crowds in Glasgow from mid-March to the end of the year, that loss of revenue has to be clawed back somewhere. So perhaps the key to the title race will be if Celtic can hold on to the talented Odsonne Edouard, and if Rangers can retain the services of their goal-machine Alfredo Morelos.

Edouard won the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award and it is no wonder he is attracting a lot of interest. Crystal Palace, Leeds and Leicester have all been linked with him but, in my view, he could play for a top-six club in the English Premier League.

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Celtic manager Neil Lennon says they cannot allow the pressure of a possible 10th successive league title to affect them

Celtic manager Neil Lennon says they cannot allow the pressure of a possible 10th successive league title to affect them

Celtic have him tied up for another few years and he could follow the same path as his predecessor Dembele and go for a sum in excess of £20m. He is undoubtedly Celtic’s biggest asset and Lennon will not want to lose him, but it will not be his call.

Morelos is another who can attract top dollar. Anyone who can score as often as he did in the Europa League last season should command a huge fee. Seven red cards and numerous yellows might impact on his value, though, and Gerrard has been exasperated with him at times. Like Lennon, he will not have a say if a huge bid is on the table.

I covered Newcastle against West Ham for Sky on Sunday and I have no doubts at all that both Edouard and Morelos would certainly offer a far bigger threat than Newcastle’s Brazilian signing Joelinton, for example. Remarkably, he cost the Magpies £40m and has managed just two league goals this season.

Scottish football is a different marketplace of course, but sums of anywhere around the £20m mark for two top-class goalscorers will have both boardrooms on high alert.

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