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Old Firm derby could define Steven Gerrard’s managerial career

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No matter what happens in a freezing Ibrox on Saturday, someone is going with the wind under their sails.

For a resurgent Celtic team, this is a chance for redemption. Having won the Scottish Cup, completing their historic quadruple treble in the process, they look like a rejuvenated squad, and six straight wins in all competitions make them dream of a victory at the home of their rivals who would be seen as an upheaval.

It would be seen as an upheaval because Rangers are, realistically, one win away from winning the Premiership title.

The reigning champions may have been three games less than their title rivals, but a loss would leave them 19 points behind. Napkin math: It’s a ten point gap, even assuming they win their games in hand.

Against a team that have now played 55% of their season and lost points twice, this seems an unassailable chasm.

The ability to put that kind of distance between clubs isn’t one that comes up too often for Rangers these days.

And he’s a Steven Gerrard knows his team needs to capitalize.

As formidable as the Light Blues have been since returning from the pandemic-imposed hiatus, last season’s post-Christmas surrender is a demon they have yet to fully exorcise. They were favorites for the league last Christmas: ten games later, Celtic had 13 clear points, and the season was called.

It was a painful collapse and while even the most ambitious of gamers would be hesitant to bet on a similar Celtic comeback this time around, if the Rangers were to win this weekend, those ghosts would start to reappear.

Gerrard’s personal history also plays a role in this. He has yet to win a league as a player or manager and has a long history of let things slide. But he’ll put that in mind as he tries to take control of what he can.

He has a few problems to resolve before the big one, not more than in his exhausted midfield. Scott Arfield and Ryan Jack have arguably been two of the Premiership’s most notable players this season, but each is injured and the engine room feels light,

Glen Kamara, Steven Davis and Joe Aribo are a fairly strong trio in their own right, but they will come up against a Celtic midfielder far stronger than the one who faced them in October. The arrivals at the scene of fringe players David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro, who took the helm against Dundee United on Wednesday, make Lennon’s side much more dynamic and much less predictable, just in time for a decisive trip to Ibrox.

The gap between the teams may suggest a clear favorite ahead of Saturday’s clash, but there is no room for complacency. The Celtic are in the best form they’ve been this season, and with winners confirmed across the park, they’ll be ready to settle a score. The self-confidence that led them to nine successive titles is not yet in full swing, but it is not a million kilometers away.

Gerrard knows their bubble needs to burst and the Rangers have the pin in hand. It’s up to them to use it.

Unless Gerrard’s team are systematically disbanded, they will leave Ibrox on Saturday with a cushion at the top of the table, and favorites to win the title on the fifth time. Their relentless efforts so far, winning each of their last 13 league games by an aggregate score of 39-3, have put them in this privileged position.

Still, you still can’t shake the feeling that, despite all their previous glow, they can’t afford to let go for a second. Certainly not this weekend.

Perhaps this is the match that, for better or for worse, defines Steven Gerrard’s managerial career.

Steven Gerrard, Ianis Hagi
Ianis Hagi receives a few words of wisdom | Mark Runnacles / Getty Images

Lose, and he will hear the cries of same old begins to resonate in the distance.

Win, and he’s finally defeated the demons of the past.