Greetings. Here is this week’s Sporting Takeaway, my impartial snapshot of the weekend’s key talking points. On the couch this week are Brendan Rodgers, Steve Clarke and Steven Gerrard. And they are joined by Dave King, Peter Lawwell, Thierry Henry and Gregor Townsend. As usual, feedback welcome.
Murder on the dance floor as Celtic slip up while Rangers produce a ballroom blitz
Strictly speaking, Celtic were expected to lead everyone a merry dance on their way to an eightsome reel. A perfectly-choreographed waltz en route to ten in a row.
But Sunday’s mis-step against plucky Livingston should serve notice that a tango can easily become a tangle.
The 0-0 draw on the drastic plastic of the Tony Macaroni Arena took Brendan Rodgers’ side to the top of the Premiership for the first time this season. It has been a grinding, 12-game struggle, helped in no small measure by the cut-throat nature of a league that has twinned excitement with changeability.
However, the win also took the shine off a slow-motion march to the summit that underscored the inconsistency that can still dog the Parkhead side.
Especially coming just days after an excellent Europa League win over RB Leipzig Rodgers described as the best of his reign in the east end of Glasgow.
Steven Gerrard, Brendan Rodgers, Tommy Wright and Craig Levein.
It means, nevertheless, that Celtic now look down on the rest on goal difference alongside a Hearts team beset by injuries to key players.
Enjoying a four-game unbeaten run in the league, the Hoops were expected to easily despatch a Livingston side, which recently had replaced brashfulness with bashfulness.
That they didn’t should be the signal that Celtic’s appearance at the top is not the restoration of a natural order as it might appear even allowing for the fact they hold a game in hand.
Unpredictability has become the norm in a league where no team can take anything for grant.
Only six points separate the top half-dozen clubs after a third of the season.
Proof that this campaign is tighter than two coats of paint.
One defeat can leave you seriously off the pace. But string together some decent form and suddenly you can find yourself in oxygen-defying heights.Look at St Johnstone. Just over as month ago they were watching the top six disappearing over the horizon. But five wins on the bounce have propelled Tommy Wright’s side to fifth, just three points behind Rodgers and Craig Levein’s twin pacesetters.
Menacingly, Aberdeen are beginning to find the form that marked them out pre-season as the team most likely to challenge Celtic’s dominion.
Rangers, meanwhile, found themselves in seventh heaven with their rampant demolition of a hapless Motherwell side. Steven Gerrard’s side remain firmly in Celtic’s rear-view mirror, as does a fourth-placed Kilmarnock side that steadfastly refuses to tear up the script that says they have no right to be classed as title challengers.
Steve Clarke is again proving his managerial pedigree and surely putting himself on the radar of bigger clubs.
The smart money says Celtic, for all their tendency towards Jekyll and Hyde displays, won’t relinquish their grip on the top spot.
So far, though, this has been a season of twists and turns. And right now none of the chasing pack are ready to dance to Celtic’s tune.
The price is right: How the Old Firm could be the Premier League’s financial saviours
A friend who read last week’s Sporting Takeaway on the idea of a Europe Super League raised an interesting observation. If England’s big birds do fly the Premier League nest, those who are left will be left scratching in the dirt for meagre survival rations.
The massive financial bounty provided by television will be off the table. Sponsors could renegotiate smaller deals. There will be no more untold zillions to pay for bang average players. Alarm bells will sound from Newcastle to Norwich, from Brighton to Bournemouth.
And that’s the point when the phone rings in Peter Lawwell’s (pictured left) office and a similar one is patched through to Dave King in South Africa. Come and join us – and we’ll harness all that lovely fan wealth together. Forget the fact we shut the door in your faces before. Let bygones be bygones. The Old Firm as the financial saviours of the English Premier League? Far-fetched it may be – and I doubt a breakaway European League will ever get off the ground. But isn’t it interesting to ponder what the response might be from Parkhead and Ibrox.
Sacre Bleu! Sky might well have been the limit for Thierry Henry after Monaco meltdown
Thierry Henry is quickly discovering that the leap from the cosy comfort of a Sky Sports studio to a dug-out in the south of France is a totally different ball game.
The Frenchman has endured a torrid time since dipping his toes into managerial waters with Monaco, the club where he first walked the yellow brick gold to superstar fame. So much so that the footballing equivalent of Old Sparky is already being charged up.
Under Henry’s brief watch – he was only appointed last month – Monaco have suffered four defeats and two draws and les natives are restless.
Of course, he can always give Sky colleague Gary Neville a call on the perils of swapping punditry for the role of paterfamilias. (I doubt he has Neil McCann on speed dial).
Neville’s first foray into management with Valencia ended after just 16 games in charge at the Mestalla, a run that yielded just 14 La Liga points and left the club teetering near the relegation zone.
Even this early into his tenure, Henry has already been given the dreaded vote of confidence from his paymasters in the principality. But it will take more than just a few bon mots to get the fans at the Stade Louis II back onside and ensure some hoorays for Henry.
Toony’s terriers show Eck’s wimpy warriors how to play the passion game
Scotland’s 54-17 win over Fiji in front of a packed Murrayfield was thrilling. Puffed out chests. A team playing with verve and vigour, passion and pizzazz. A side that brilliantly blended youthful swagger with game-savvy experience. And a set of fans wholly behind Gregor Townsend’s men. In other words, everything that Alex McLeish’s (pictured left) insipid football team lacks.
Tangerines dream of top-flight return
And a quick PS. Put your mortgage on Dundee United winning the Championship.
In just a few short weeks Robbie Neilson has transformed the Tangerines from a side permanently stuck in reverse to one that is clicking nicely through the gears. I can definitely see them ending their exile from the top flight by the end of May. Without the need for a play-off.