It’s official: Celtic are champions of the Scottish Premiership after the SPFL approved the curtailment of the 2019-20 season. Celtic were 13 points clear at the top of the table when the Scottish football season was halted by the Coronavirus outbreak on March 12th. At the other end of the table, Hearts have been relegated down to the Championship and will be replaced with Dundee United.
Nine in a row
It’s the ninth consecutive Premiership title and 51st league title for The Hoops. Celtic suffered an early season blip when they were surprisingly held by Livingston and beaten by Hibs. However, Neil Lennon’s side responded with 20 wins from their next 22 league matches. Many predicted Celtic’s standards would drop this season after Brendan Rodgers’ controversial departure last February, but Celtic have moved on without him.
It was the potency of Celtic’s attack that proved key this season, scoring an astonishing 89 league goals; 12 more than they managed last season. France Under 21 international Odsonne Edouard totaled 22 goals, making himself the favorite for Scotland’s Player of the Year.
James Forrest, the recipient of the award last year, enjoyed another stellar season with 14 assists and 10 goals. With their place in the Scottish Cup semifinals booked, Celtic now have the chance to complete a clean sweep of domestic honors.
More Frustration for Rangers
As for Rangers, it proved a year of immense promise that ultimately failed to deliver. Steven Gerrard’s men looked like they could take the championship to the wire when they beat Celtic at Parkhead before Christmas. However, their form imploded after the winter break. A shocking defeat to Hearts began a run of just four wins from nine league games.
Their collapse of form was completed with a Scottish Cup quarterfinal defeat to Hearts; condemning them to a ninth consecutive year without a major trophy.
Gerrard can take some comfort from a strong Europa League campaign which continued the rehabilitation of Rangers’ reputation in Europe. However, any further progress will require them to overturn a 3-1 first leg home defeat to Bayer Leverkusen. Alfredo Moreles enjoyed another fine campaign at Ibrox, with Gerrard inevitably facing a battle to keep the Columbian striker this summer. One player who will be staying is Gerrard’s former England teammate in Jermain Defoe. The 37-year old signed a one-year extension that should wrap up his career.
Beyond the Old Firm clubs, the departure of Steve Clarke for the Scotland job saw Kilmarnock drop from third last season to eighth. Motherwell enjoyed a strong campaign to finish a distant third and qualify for the Europa League, with midfielder Liam Polworth enjoying his debut season at Fir Park.
The biggest losers from the season were Hearts after being relegated due to being bottom of the league when the season was halted. The Edinburgh club have threatened legal action against the decision. It’s unlikely a legal challenge will reverse Hearts’ relegation, but what’s less clear is if new manager Daniel Stendel will remain with the club. One silver lining for Hearts is they do have an Edinburgh derby with Hibs to look forward to in the Scottish Cup semifinal.
The SPFL have confirmed the Scottish Cup is still alive this season, with hopes of the final phases taking place behind closed doors when the lockdown eases. Celtic will be overwhelming favorites when they face Aberdeen. On the other side of the semifinals, Hibs is favored to beat Hearts.
As with every other league in Europe, the start date for next season remains unclear. To date, it seems certain next season will at least begin behind closed doors. When sports return to the top of Scottish Football’s agenda, the question will be whether Celtic can record a historic tenth straight league title.