By Ryan Fleming
There is only seven points separating the two Glasgow teams. Celtic and Rangers, heated rivals for longer than most can remember, square off this Sunday in what is surely the most important game for the Hoops and a vital test for the Gers as well.
Seven points might seem like a lot, but if Celtic manage a win come Sunday then only four points between of the Hoops and the SPL title. Four points closer to an automatic CL birth, which in turn means money, something that’s paramount in European soccer.
More than Just a Title
Now, in recent posts I keep mentioning how glorious this Scottish Premier League (SPL) title really is. Sure, you’re the best in the league, you get a guaranteed spot in European play and you get to the preliminary rounds of the Champions League (Champions League). The team in second gets a trip to try their luck at the qualifying rounds of the Champions League, the branch of the competition to see if you’re good enough to compete with the best. If you don’t make it, it’s not all a loss – you still get to play in the European Cup.
Unfortunately for the SPL and its teams, where quality has waned over the years, there will only be one possible Champions League slot open to the entire league. What this means exactly is that only the team that claims the SPL title will be allowed to compete in the CL.
The SPL has lost it’s CL place to Belgium, a team that has racked up more points than them in European play. It also means that no team automatically qualifies for CL group stages; there are three stages of qualifying rounds beforehand. This new development, passed along late last week, makes becoming the league champion and fielding quality talent all that important.
Not Just Another Game
Rangers, who have a game in hand and a seven point lead will attempt to steal the league away with a win at Ibrox on Sunday. Gers’ keeper, Allan McGregor, is out of Sunday’s Old Firm clash after sustaining injuries after leaving a night club this past weekend. The Scotland international is also out of his country’s match against the Czech Republic next month. So far, no one has been arrested in the incident.
Another thing perhaps pointing in the favor of Celtic is recent form of Robbie Keane and the new back-line duo manager Tony Mowbray has in place.
Since Keane has joined the Hoops, the Ireland international has scored a goal in every game including Celtic’s game-winner in a 1-0 win over Dundee last weekend. Mowbray has also made a splash in his backline with the recent play of new signings, Edson Braafheid, Thomas Rogne and Jos Hooiveld and the play of youngster Josh Thompson. The quartet, not all usually on the field on the same time, have formed the solid backline that Celtic has yearned for over the years.
With more up for grabs this Sunday, this match has all the pieces for being a testy duel for two financially needy clubs.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.