Should Premiership champions Celtic be worried by Rangers title threat?

By Scott MullenBBC Sport Scotland

It is Rangers' best start to a campaign in 53 years and Steven Gerrard's team look formidable in their quest to halt Celtic's march to an unprecedented 10th title in a row.

Another slip from the defending champions away to Hibs on Saturday, combined with Rangers' 4-0 rout of Aberdeen the following day, has blown an 11-point gap open between the pair.

Chasing Celtic still have two games in hand, but is the challenge from their Old Firm rivals greater than in recent seasons?

Rangers progress as Celtic regress

Firstly, let's look at the difference from last year.

Rangers sit atop the Premiership this term with 41 points from 15 matches. That's three more than at the same point last campaign.

Meanwhile Celtic have garnered 30 points from 13 games this term, last year their tally after the same amount of fixtures was 34, meaning Lennon's men are four points worse off.

The Parkhead side's stats are also poorer when it comes to goals. They've netted six fewer this season and conceded six more compared to last term.

Run of form graphic

Rangers have netted four fewer goals this season compared to the same point a year ago, but their defence has been much tighter, conceding just three goals so far, having let in 10 after 15 games in 2019-20. The Ibrox side are yet to let in a single goal at home in eight matches this season.

Leading the scoring charts for Rangers is captain James Tavernier. The right-back is also the league's top goal scorer with nine strikes, and has also been involved in 36% of all of his side's Premiership goals, an incredible contribution from a full-back.

"Rangers are like a steam train building momentum and, if it goes on, it will be difficult for anyone to stop them," said former Rangers player Richard Foster.

Across the city, meanwhile, Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard has not quite replicated his sparkling form for the French Under-21s in green and white. After scoring a hat-trick on the opening weekend, he has added just two goals since, including in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Hibs.

Stats favour Gerrard's men

That was just a quick snapshot, but let's delve deeper, shall we?

Stats gurus at Opta paint a defensive picture that will please Gerrard, and leave counterpart Neil Lennon scratching his head. Rangers have kept 17 clean sheets this season in all competitions, eight more than Celtic, and it's clear to see why that may be the case.

While continuity at the back and commanding midfield showings mean chances for Rangers' opponents are at a premium, injuries and below-par defensive showings are costing Celtic at the moment, with the jury still out on defender Shane Duffy and keeper Vasilis Barkas after inauspicious starts to their Parkhead careers.

In the Premiership, Lennon's defending champions have faced 113 shots from opponents compared to Rangers' 70, with 32 of them on target over the 22 aimed at their rivals' goal. That's 38% and 31% more, respectively.

Celtic's 'lazy' defending angers Lennon

Going forward, it's a similar story. The stats show Rangers are much more potent in attack.

Gerrard's team have had 52 more shots at goal (285) and 10 extra on target compared to Celtic (104).

They are also get the ball into the box much more often. Rangers have swung in 275 crosses from open play - 64 of them successful - compared to Celtic's 216 - 46 successful.

What these figures show is that the current league leaders get into positions to shoot and cross more often, although their success rate with the former is slightly lower at 4% less.

Shots graphic

Is it too early to tell?

Many Celtic fans will point to having been in this movie before. Last term both sides were level at the turn of the year but Celtic were 13 points ahead when the season was called.

Lennon and some of the club's supporters will point to their experience, and it has hard to argue. After all, they are veterans when it comes to going the distance in campaigns, and if they can keep hold of the likes of Edouard and Ryan Christie in the January transfer window, then you would still expect them to finish strongly.

It's worth taking into account, too, that their recent slump has come on the back of a run of tough fixtures including four away games - three against sides you would expect to be pushing for third spot - and an Old Firm derby.

However, it is clear from the statistics that this Rangers team is posing a much greater threat, and their challenge should be written off at your peril.

"The level of application [from Celtic] is poor," said former Rangers and Scotland midfielder Neil McCann. "Not all of them, but certain players.

"If they don't understand the history Celtic stand on just now, they shouldn't be wearing a Celtic jersey.

"It's okay having games in hand but you have to win them. And with the way Celtic are playing just now, you can't guarantee that will happen."

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