Lockdown didn’t enhance much of our quality of life with the biggest expansion coming in waistlines and forensic knowledge of Netflix boxsets.

One of the lockdown hits was the entertaining 10-part documentary series The Last Dance which explored the celebrated relationship between basketball superstar Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during the ‘90s. As Scottish top-flight teams gear up for the beginning of the new campaign, there are more than a few lessons that might be absorbed from taking in the show.

Stress and pressure are a constant for both halves of the Old Firm, but there will be something more pressing, more acute this year as Celtic look to make history by winning a tenth successive title and Rangers head into the season knowing that realistically they are the only time who have the chance to deny them it.

While Celtic look like a team who have mastered the act of taking tension and expectancy and using it to motivate and energise rather than feel encumbered by the weight, Rangers have been a team frozen in the headlights when they have been faced with the chance to turn the screw a little.

In the two seasons that Steven Gerrard has presided over the Ibrox side there has been unmistakable progress from the mess that he inherited. There has been cohesion and organisation about Rangers and there have been sufficient moments to make Celtic cast a glance over their shoulder; the win at Celtic Park in December, the manner of their performance in the League Cup final at Hampden which went before it.

But ultimately the months which have followed the winter break – there won’t be one this term – have seen a disintegration about Rangers. The resolve has collapsed and evaporated as if the spell is broken whenever the onus is on them to set the pace.

The lack of conviction and the acknowledgement that there is a hint of fear whenever all eyes are on Rangers will hinder them if they genuinely wish to be regarded as title challengers. And in that respect the work over the past few weeks will have needed to have had a focus on the psychology of the season that lies ahead as much as it had to be on team structure and its depth.

Where they have excelled and caught the eye with mature European performances, Rangers have never sustained the same application over the course of a full season. Twice they have showed up well until January before things have reverted to type with Celtic going into the final stages of the campaign under very little real pressure.

Gerrard might feel that there remain key areas which Rangers need to strengthen before the window closes but changing the mentality within the squad will only come through winning a trophy. And there are very managers of Rangers and Celtic who go through three seasons without delivering silverware who survive, as he will well know himself.

Progress is one thing but stopping Celtic winning a tenth title and rubbing Rangers’ noses in it forever more is quite another. The pressure is there.

The likelihood, too, is that it is a challenge that will be done without the influence of his top goalscorer. Alfredo Morelos doesn’t have his critics to seek with temperament issues plaguing his record in Glasgow but ultimately he was a player Gerrard has relied upon to score goals. His stats are impressive, even allowing for the fact that he looks certain to leave Rangers without ever having scored against Celtic.

Gerrard has already hinted that there is a safety net in place should he lose the Colombian internationalist but there is never a guarantee with any player who comes in. They got the striker for a paltry fee but such bargains are rare and right now Rangers without Morelos are a weaker team than they are with him. The same would apply to Celtic and Odsonne Edouard; there may yet be a bid for the Frenchman before the window closes which would leave Neil Lennon without the services of a player who has been so pivotal to the way the Parkhead side play.

Lennon has long weaved himself into the fabric of Celtic and knows exactly what the demands will be this season by a support who know nothing other than winning. The feeling will be that if there is a ten delivered then it can be as many as they want it to be.

Stopping it might give Gerrard a few sleepless nights this term. He knows what it is like to get a performance out of side and get them greater than the sum of their parts – his celebrations in the aftermath of the December win at Celtic Park showed just how big that win was for him – but keeping them there at that level is the real challenge.


There was the audible sigh of a press pack groaning when it was confirmed this week that Scottish Premiership clubs have voted to allow for five substitutions ahead of the season kicking off this afternoon.

It is not just the disruption to the cerebral matter as match reports are briefly halted to take note of changes but also the fact that allowing so many subs entirely changes the rhythm of a game. As you’ll know if you have sat through turgid pre-season friendlies in the past where games have different personnel from one half to the next.

There is also a feeling that making it permissible to effectively change up to half your outfield team means that if a manager gets his line-up wrong then he can rectify things fairly quickly, something which will favour teams who have significantly more depth.

But the other concern is a suspicion that there will be a reticence on the part of some managers to allow younger players to head out on loan. With nine players needed now to make up the bench it may mean that emerging players are held for bench places rather than given the chance to get a run of games elsewhere.