ALEX McLeish has predicted his former club Rangers can maintain their impressive form and depose Celtic as Scottish champions this season - thanks to their outstanding summer recruitment drive.

The Ibrox club pulled six points clear at the top of the Premiership on Sunday when their Parkhead rivals, who still have a game in hand, drew 3-3 with Aberdeen away and they defeated Livingston 2-0 at home.

McLeish understands that Neil Lennon has been missing a raft of important players due to coronavirus and injury and fully expects Celtic, who are bidding to make history by completing 10-In-A-Row, to bounce back from their three game winless run.

However, the man who led Rangers to thrilling final day league triumphs in 2003 and 2005 is convinced Steven Gerrard, whose side have suffered collapses in the last two years, now has the strength in depth he needs for his team to claim the title.

The Aberdeen and Scotland benefitted greatly from the presence of exceptional players like Mikel Arteta, Shota Arveladze, Stefan Klos, Michael Mols, Artur Numan and Ronald de Boer during his tenure in Govan.

He believes the work carried out by sporting director Ross Wilson and his scouting team this year – they have brought in Calvin Bassey, Leon Balogun, Ianis Hagi, Cedric Itten, Jon McLaughlin and Kemar Roofe – has elevated Rangers to a new level.

"I guess we are all influenced by results and form,” he said at a Premier Sports media event. "Celtic are going through an injury crisis at the moment. It could happen to Rangers in the season. It is still very, very early and Celtic will fight back for sure.

“But the way things are going for Rangers now, I get the feeling this could be their year. I am probably just going on form, but I feel this is a chance for Rangers this season.

"Mainly because of the recruitment this season because (Kemar) Roofe is only going to get fitter. We have not seen much of (Cedric) Itten yet. It looks like Rangers are prepared this time. They have dealt pretty smartly and wisely.”

McLeish continued: “I have contacts down in England and Belgian contacts from my time there and they have been telling me Roofe is a very decent player.

"But I had seen a wee bit of him and his techniques when he was at Leeds. I felt it was a good signing. What Roofe did the other night (the striker scored from inside his own half in the Europa League game against Standard Liege in Belgium) was something spectacular and out of this world.

“Rangers seem to have a very strong squad at the moment. Jermain Defoe's goal yesterday shows they have an amazing spirit in there at the minute as well.”

Celtic’s form, at the back especially, has been in stark contrast to that of Rangers and McLeish reckons his old club Aberdeen have an excellent chance to beat them in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden on Sunday afternoon.

"Celtic have already recruited again themselves in the summer, but some of the players haven’t quite hit the ground running,” he said. “So far we have not seen what these players can do.

“They’ve had problems with the rhythm of their team being disrupted by the loss off four of five players and that’s left their defence looking a wee bit shaky. It can be a bit of a nightmare when you lose your best players.

“You don’t normally see them making the kind of mistakes they have been. Kristoffer Ajer didn’t get close to Sam Cosgrove at Ryan Hedges’ goal yesterday and that looks to me like a confidence issue. These players are only human and sometimes confidence goes.

“Shane Duffy has come in. He hadn’t played much football and he still doesn’t look at his sharpest yet. It looked like a game-changer when he came because he’s such a threat at set-pieces, but he’s struggled a little to get up to speed.

“They’re new players who are trying to integrate in the side. You can look at a squad as a manager and think: ‘What a great bunch of players I have’. But when you’re having to make lots of changes, you can struggle.

“It’s not often they go on a run of defeats and that’s two of the last three they’ve lost now. With the semi-final on Sunday, it would be an absolute disaster if they lost again there. Aberdeen will go to Hampden believing they can win.”

Alex McLeish was speaking to promote Premier Sports coverage of the Scottish Cup semi-final match Celtic v Aberdeen live and exclusive from 2pm on Sunday. Premier Sports is available on Sky, Virgin TV and the Premier Player. Prices start from £9.99 per month.