Andy Walker adamant Celtic hold title ‘advantage’ over Rangers as he highlights key European factor

The former Hoops striker cast his thoughts on Ange Postecoglou’s summer recruitment plans

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Andy Walker reckons Celtic have received a major boost by qualifying automatically for the Champions League - which could hand them an advantage in the title race.

The former Hoops striker believes Ange Postecoglou’s side will be the team to catch again next season as he outlined the benefit of bypassing European qualifiers.

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However, Walker claims the biggest factor in the destination of the Scottish Premiership during the 2022/23 campaign will arrive in the Old Firm derby fixtures once more.

The SPFL released the top-flight calendar on Friday morning and Walker insists the significance of those results will have a massive bearing which clubs gets their hands on the trophy.

Last season’s title race swung dramatically in Celtic’s favour after thrashing Rangers 3-0 at Parkhead on February 2.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men let a six-point lead disappear in the blink of an eye, which proved to be the key turning point of a thrilling campaign.

Celtic secured seven points to Rangers four in the four domestic meetings between the side’s last term and Walker insists the new season will be a similar story.

Walker told Sky Sports: “I think they’re getting bigger and bigger. Rangers only lost three games last season but two of them were to Celtic.

“I think that turned the title in Celtic’s favour. Every one of those games is hugely important.

“Celtic didn’t drop many points at home, so those Old Firm games are providing to be more and more crucial.

“I think the turnaround in Celtic’s fortunes over the last 12 months has been remarkable. Ange Postecoglou has done a terrific job. When you see the success in his recruitment, I think that took everyone by surprise.

“Everyone has bought into what Ange is going to do. Clearly, he’s going to bring in some fresh players and try and make some sort of impact on the Champions League.

“I know that’s going to be really difficult but I think the big bonus for Celtic is that they don’t have to come through those qualifiers.

“The players might get a bit of extra rest and that’s important for all the challenges ahead.

“Winning the title was a huge boost for everyone but you see what Rangers have done on the European stage. I think Celtic’s European results have been really poor.

“Clearly, that’s where they want to improve. It’s very difficult at Champions League level but if it doesn’t go well you can drop into the Europa League.

“So Celtic on the European stage need to improve. That’s fair enough. That’s a good target for everyone to try and achieve.”

Postecoglou was praised for his effective recruitment policy during his first season in charge, with the likes of Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Jota all playing an important role in wrestling back their crown from Rangers.

Benfica loanee Jota is expected to follow Carter-Vickers in signing a permanent deal this summer and Walker admits retaining those players will help to aid their cause.

He added: “You want to get all the players who were a big success last season tied down.

“I think the players themselves want the challenge of Champions League football, playing at the highest level.

“That’s a big bonus. I think there are other players who have to be in the pipeline and you want to tie down someone like Jota as well, who was a big success.

“It’s going to be a big fee to get him but I think Celtic have the money to spend.

“It’s important here that you change the menu every season and give the supporters some fresh faces, some exciting new talent.

“I think that’s what Ange Postecoglou has done. He’s ahead of the game. No-one really expected him to get the title last season given the massive turnaround.

“I think that’s why everyone is on board with what he’s trying to do.”