Whether or not Rangers closed the gap on Celtic last season, as was the brief set for Steven Gerrard upon his appointment at Ibrox last summer, was really down to personal interpretation.
Celtic finished nine points clear of their rivals at the top of the Scottish Premiership, three points closer than the season before.
Technically speaking, Gerrard succeeded in closing the gap on Celtic.
But the Hoops, despite losing a manager just two months before the end of the campaign, still strolled to their eighth successive league title. Only at one point (after Rangers’ derby win on December 29) did it appear that Celtic’s supremacy might be challenged. At all other times, they were comfortable. Did this really constitute closing the gap?
This season might be different, though. For the first time in the best part of a decade, Scottish football is coiled in anticipation of a genuine title race. One that will go right to the wire.
The ancient rivalry between Celtic and Rangers finally appears ready to resume after years and years of the contest being decidedly one-sided.
They still boast the best, most accomplished squad in the division. What’s more, there is a winning mentality ingrained in the minds of several players at the club, players who have grown accustomed to winning everything in front of them.
The appointment of Neil Lennon has led some to accuse Celtic of a lack of ambition. He was, whichever way you look at it, the easy appointment. He was available having been sacked by Hibernian just a few weeks previously and was popular with the fanbase having been successful there before.
Lennon, however, is a very different kind of coach to Rodgers and he will demand a very different brand of football from a squad assembled to play to his predecessor’s specifications. The risk is that Lennon, as more of a traditionalist who favours wing play and crosses into the box, brings about an identity crisis from a team used to playing through the middle.
This could feasibly open the door for Rangers.
Gerrard has managed to keep his best players over the summer and has added some real quality in the signing of Joe Aribo from Charlton and Sheyi Ojo on loan from Liverpool. The capture of Swedish defender Filip Helander from Bologna should also give Rangers a defensive bedrock to build on. Or at least that’s the idea.
But while the addition of Aribo and Ojo, in particular, might give Rangers something they were lacking last season – namely drive and energy through the centre of the pitch – the loss of Ryan Kent will harm them.
The on-loan Liverpool winger was arguably their second-best player, behind Alfredo Morelos, last term, and has now been earmarked for sale by his parent club, pricing Rangers out of a permanent move.
Nonetheless, there is a sense that Rangers have strengthened over the summer while Celtic have, at the very least, tread water. The addition of French centre back Christopher Jullien for a hefty £7m has filled a hole, but Lennon remains without a first-choice right-back following the release of Mikael Lustig and could be without a proven left-back if Kieran Tierney is sold.
They have the strength of familiarity and of leadership.
Scott Brown remains a force of nature even if his legs don’t carry him as quickly as they used to and in Callum McGregor and James Forrest the Hoops boast two of the most creative players in the Scottish game.
The return of Leigh Griffiths also gives Celtic cause of optimism.
Both teams head into the 2019/20 season with questions against them – some negative, some positive.
However, for the first time in a while, we aren’t completely certain of the answers. Of how the story, and the season, will end.