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The Debate: Would Celtic and Rangers survive in the Premier League?

It’s the age-old question but with a slight twist: Would Celtic and Rangers survive in the Premier League?

For years, the debate has rambled on as to how the two Glasgow giants would fare in England’s top flight.

There have even been rumours in the past of the Premier League extending to 22 teams to allow both Celtic and Rangers a place in the division.

Such is the magnitude of both clubs, there’s always great intrigue to see if they could hold their own in a division that features the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Some have envisaged both challenging for a top four spot while others have predicted the polar opposite - even talk of a mid-table Championship finish has been touted!

Without further ado, we delve into the debate on whether the current Celtic and Rangers sides would have enough to secure Premier League survival.

Yes - Both sides would survive in the Premier League

Way back when, the debate was whether or not Celtic and Rangers could crack the Premier League’s big four.

But as the influx of money has been poured into English football, the Old Firm clubs have been left behind. 

Give them the same money Premier League clubs get, however, and they would keep their heads above water.

The gap between top and bottom in the Premier League these days is as big as it’s ever been. The magical 40-point mark used to be the goal for teams looking to stay up, but anywhere in the mid-30s is usually enough these days, with 29 good enough one year.

In the Premier League last season, Nottingham Forest survived based purely on their home form, losing five games all season, against Tottenham, Bournemouth, Fulham (all early in the season), then to Newcastle and Manchester United.

The fans carried them to safety last season, and Celtic and Rangers fans would do exactly the same.

It’s easy to look at the transfer activity of the Old Firm and deduce that most of their players are Championship standard – Joe Hart wouldn’t get a look-in at any Premier League club, while few of Rangers’ signings are exactly household names.

Neither club spends any significant money – Celtic often turn a profit when it comes to transfers, while Rangers’ biggest spending spree in recent years was last season when they spent around £14m, and even that was offset by more than £25m in player sales.

With the lack of money in Scotland, it’s unsustainable for the top players to stay too long in Scotland. The likes of Odsonne Edouard, Kristoffer Ajer and Kieran Tierney all left for the Premier League.

If Celtic and Rangers were plying their trade in England, they’d not only have far more money to spend, they’d be able to keep – and attract – players who were previously eyeing up bigger things. 

It’s unfair to directly compare the Old Firm with the Premier League clubs when the playing field isn’t remotely level; Celtic earned around £90m less than Southampton last season, despite one winning their league and the other finishing bottom of theirs, and that gap grows with each season a team remains in England’s top flight.

Yet, despite the disparity in income, we’ve seen both clubs be competitive in Europe.

In the not-too-distant past, Celtic have got results home and away to Manchester City, drawn with Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany, beaten Anderlecht in Belgium; they’ve beaten Lazio home and away as well as beating RB Leizpig and Real Betis. 

But despite their domestic superiority, it’s never transferred fully into Europe, unlike for their rivals.

Since returning to Europe, Ibrox has witnessed countless unforgettable nights. Admittedly, last season, they were dealt a rotten hand in the Champions League and were resoundingly dumped out at the group stage, but few teams in the bottom half of the Premier League would’ve done much better. Indeed, outside of England’s big hitters, only West Ham have made it past the Europa League quarter-finals since Fulham in 2010. 

In the Europa League, Rangers have consistently progressed through the group stage, and were a penalty shootout away from winning the whole thing in 2022. 

While Celtic are clear domestically, Rangers have consistently proved they’re able to get results against European-calibre sides. Their run to the 2022 final wasn’t just good fortune; they knocked out Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade, Braga and RB Leizpig en route. 

Yes, Rangers leaned on the deafening Ibrox crowd for that run, but every Premier League game would be like a cup final. 

Beat enough of the teams around them – which they’d have the quality to do – and both Celtic and Rangers would survive.

No - Both would suffer relegation

If you were to ask me this question two years ago I would have argued differently.

While both Celtic and Rangers remain unchallenged at the top of the Scottish football, both sides have regressed in recent months.

In Ange Postecoglou, Celtic had a smart, innovative leader whose pursuit of excellence was unrelenting. No stone was left unturned, the bar always increasing.

Everyone at the club was aligned with the Australian’s vision and it reaped the rewards on the pitch, with Celtic going on to win the domestic treble last campaign.

Brendan Rodgers enjoyed fabulous success at Celtic Park in his previous stint but he doesn’t possess the commanding aura of Postecoglou and it’s been telling in some of Celtic’s showings this campaign.

Struggling for consistency in their performances, you can be afforded an off-day against the likes of Livingston and St. Johnstone - but not in the Premier League. If you’re below par, struggling to find your rhythm then the likelihood is you’re going to be punished, even when opposing basement side Sheffield United.

Such defeats for the Old Firm teams are now regarded as an act of severe complacency. On a domestic front, the famous green and white hoops have been largely untouchable but is it a surprise when they’re competing with clubs whose wage bill is less than some teams competing at the top end of League One? 

Burnley’s wage bill is estimated to be five times that of Aberdeen’s.

Where Celtic have soared domestically, their European adventures have been damaging. A 6-0 hammering at the Wanda Metropolitano compounded their Champions League woes with Celtic finishing bottom of Group E.

Would Luton have fared better? The idea of it doesn’t seem feasible but the Hatters have held Liverpool at Kenilworth Road and beaten Newcastle in recent weeks.

Celtic do possess a collection of superb individuals. Matt O’Riley, Kyogo Furuhashi and Luis Palma are just some examples of their shrewd recruitment policy and yet players such as Nat Phillips and Joe Hart have been cast aside by Premier League clubs.

Would either start in England’s top flight? You could vouch for some sides - Brentford are in need a goalkeeper to eradicate the costly individual errors - but Hart would have a hard time ousting Thomas Kaminski at Luton or Neto at Bournemouth.

And then there is Rangers, the club that were embarrassed on the European stage last term. Six defeats and a -20 goal difference resulted in their declaration as the worst side In Champions League group stage history, a campaign that saw Liverpool run out 7-1 victors at Ibrox.

It was a far-cry from their marvellous run to the Europa League final a few months before, but their showing amongst Europe’s elite was a damning indictment on Scottish club football and the lack of resource to compete.

Michael Beale arrived, promising so much and ultimately yielding so little. In a summer where Rangers were to reinforce and put themselves in a position to challenge for the title, their recruitment fell short.

Philippe Clement has been left to pick up the pieces and while the Gers are now back on track, the point remains that their current squad is not equipped to survive in the Premier League.

Abdallah Sima has excelled from the flank this season but the reality is that, should he return to Brighton, it's unlikely he would feature in Roberto De Zerbi’s plans.

John Lundstram was instrumental in Sheffield United’s top-half finish three years ago but do he and Kieran Dowell have the ability to give their teammates an edge in encounters with Wolves, Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace?

Both Ibrox and Celtic Park would be treacherous venues to visit given the vociferous support and yet, as mentioned above, Liverpool proved last year that they can win comprehensively in Rangers’ own backyard.

It’s also the variety of teams that Celtic and Rangers will come against. The Old Firm pair would face eight more sides than they would in a regular SPL season and with the number of contrasting styles in the Premier League, both sides could find it difficult to adapt to the intensity.

And for two teams that have grew accustomed to the cycle of winning every week, how would they fare psychologically if they’re on the receiving end of three successive defeats? 

Having the hunger to stay on top in the Scottish Premiership is one thing, but having the courage to pick yourselves up from a series of setbacks is an entirely different conundrum.

Rodgers knows all too well of the Premier League’s trials and tribulations and even he ran out of ideas last season, setting Leicester City on the path to a shock relegation.

My colleague mentioned above that every Premier League match would be a cup final for the Old Firm teams, but I’m sure every opponent would revel at the chance of taking on these two massive clubs.

It would be tight - and although I think Celtic have a better chance than Rangers - I don’t see either having enough in their locker to survive. Given the riches relegation offers in parachute payments, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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