Celtic face one of the closest Scottish Premiership title races for years, but can their January transfer activity help bring home a ninth consecutive title?
The Bhoys currently sit atop the Scottish first division by two points, but fierce Glasgow rivals Rangers can leapfrog the Parkhead club if they win their game in hand. Steven Gerrard’s side have experienced just the single defeat in the league this season and recently triumphed 2-1 at Celtic Park in the latest instalment of the Old Firm derby.
Victory over Celtic has shifted the title race in Rangers’ favour with the halfway point of the campaign now passed, but Neil Lennon has been working overtime this winter window to prevent the coveted silverware heading to Ibrox for the first time in nearly a decade.
So, can the new recruits in Glasgow help bring fresh impetus to Celtic and tilt the title race back in Lennon’s favour?
Who have Celtic signed this January?
Celtic are the leading goalscorers in the league this season (55). Nevertheless, Lennon has looked to bolster his frontline with the acquisition of Poland U21 international Patryk Klimala. The 21-year-old striker was signed from Jagiellonia Bialystok and boasts huge potential. That he recently likened his own style of play to that of Jamie Vardy will certainly go down well with Celtic fans, too.
In a characteristic comparable with the former England international, Klimala has a hankering for playing on the shoulder and making runs over the top, which would certainly offer Lennon a completely different dimension to that of Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths.
“You can compare me to Vardy maybe 90 per cent”, Klimala said. “I know about the player but I am not a big fan of English football.
“I don’t prefer to play on the wing. I prefer to be in the middle as a striker. It doesn’t matter if I play on my own or as part of a pair, I just want to play centrally. I could play with Odsonne Edouard. I would be quite happy with that.”
Celtic are also closing in on a deal to sign Ismaila Soro from Israeli club Bnei Yehuda, according to the BBC. The 21-year-old central midfielder has been described by Lennon as “strong, technically very good, quick across the ground and hungry”.
In the hustle and bustle of the Scottish Premiership, Soro’s combative attributes will unquestionably stand him in good stead, while Lennon will be hoping that his impressive passing range can transmit from Isreal to Scotland.
And Lennon has already been looking for ways to bring in his new recruits, ditching his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation over the weekend for an uncharacteristic 4-3-1-2 against Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup. The Bhoys clinched a 2-1 victory with Klimala coming on as a second half substitute to partner Edouard up-top for his debut. So, could this be a sign of things to come?
How the title run-in is looking for both clubs?
After defeat in the Old Firm derby last month Lennon insisted “there is nothing in it” as far as the title race is concerned, despite the fact that Rangers can climb above Celtic should they win their game in hand.
However, regardless of the Gers’ potential one-point cushion at the summit of the Scottish top flight, Lennon remains adamant that Gerrard and Co do not have the psychological edge in this title race and it is still all to play for.
“It just means it is game on,” Lennon remarked after suffering a first home defeat in the league since May 2018 last month. “If Rangers win their game in hand they will have a one-point cushion.
“There is nothing in it. It’s a test of character now which is good. It is not the time to be over-critical.
“We have lost the game but there is plenty to play for and we have time to think on it.”
Both these sides will compete in the Europa League round-of-32 next month, with Celtic taking on FC Kobenhavn and Rangers set to lock horns with S.C. Braga.
The piled-up fixtures could lead to potential fatigue and possibly even burnout for some players at such a critical part of the season. It will, therefore, be interesting to see whether either Lennon or Gerrard decides to tinker drastically with their line-ups, with one eye perhaps on domestic affairs.
But either way, both Celtic and Rangers face tricky run-ins with each side having to play high-flying Aberdeen and Motherwell, as well as possibly one of the most fascinating and intense Old Firm derbies for years on March 15 at Ibrox.
This matchup could prove a season-defining game come the end of the campaign. It’s certainly too close to call at the moment, but Celtic remain the bookies’ favourites at 4/6* to win the Scottish Premiership this season.