LEE McCulloch was on hand at Murrayfield yesterday to promote Rangers’ glamour friendly against Manchester United in July - and he was salivating about the prospect of the Scottish and English behemoths facing each other once again. 

The former Ibrox captain squared up to the Old Trafford club twice in the group stages of the Champions League back in the 2010/11 season and thoroughly enjoyed being involved in both matches.

He has no doubts that their summer encounter through in Edinburgh will, even though it is only a pre-season game, be a fiercely-contested affair and will attract a 67,500-strong crowd. “It will be sold out,” he said. “What an atmosphere there will be.”

But McCulloch was not so sure when he was asked if he thought Rangers could pip Celtic in what is the most evenly matched Scottish title race in 13 years? “I don’t know,” he said. “Do you?

The man who won the Premiership twice on the final day during his trophy-laden spell in Govan is, however, pretty certain about one thing. The cinch Premiership this term is set to go the full distance. “It is so tight,” he said. “Really, really tight. It could go right to the wire.”

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He is also convinced that current Rangers manager Philippe Clement will be able to negotiate the final nine league games in the weeks ahead despite the pressure he will be under to deliver the silverware.

Having Walter Smith in the dugout proved to be crucial when McCulloch and his team mates were vying closely with their city rivals in 2009 and 2011 - the legendary Scot was in his second stint in charge and was a veteran of numerous successful campaigns.

The ex-Scotland internationalist can see similar traits in the Belgian, who won the Pro League in his homeland once with Genk and then twice with Club Brugge in the space of three years, and is confident his boyhood heroes are in good hands entering what promises to be a fraught run-in.  

The Herald: “We won on the last day against Dundee United away and then against Kilmarnock away,” he said. “The key is basically to just win games. We had Walter as manager. It was just all about winning first and foremost with him.

“Concentrate on yourselves, take each game at a time. Obviously the more the games tick off the higher the pressure. But just concentrate on yourselves and forget what anybody else in the league is doing.”

McCulloch added: “Rangers need everybody fit. I think they have been a wee bit unlucky with injuries in the last couple of weeks. They are playing players not out of position as such, but probably not their most natural position.”

“However, the current manager has got experience of winning leagues as well and know what it takes. So I don’t see any massive problems. It’s just whether they can go game at a time and win every game.

“The manager has played a massive role in getting the club to where it is now compared to in my opinion where it was at the start of the season maybe under the previous manager. So he has got to take enormous credit and be given enormous credit.

“I would’ve liked to play for him. I’ve only spoken to him a couple of times, but he reminds me of Walter a bit. I’m 100 per cent not comparing them. However, there’s a steeliness to him, he has a presence, a seriousness. That is what Walter was like.

“If the team’s winning 1-0 or getting beat 1-0, you couldn’t really tell looking at him on the touchline. He’s a bit emotionless, which I quite like. And I imagine the players really respect him.

“He will be a big factor just as Brendan Rodgers is for Celtic and Stevie Naismith is for Hearts. The manager is big, they are the leader. But it is down to the dressing room as well. It is about keeping your confidence and remaining focused. I am excited about it.”

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Like so many supporters, McCulloch could see little prospect of Rangers winning the Premiership when they lost 3-1 at home to Aberdeen to fall seven points behind Celtic back at the end of September in what proved to be the final game of the Michael Beale reign.

He has been taken aback by the transformation they have undergone since Clement was appointed. 

“The biggest positive for Rangers is the manager coming in, changing the squad, giving them confidence and togetherness and showing he can change his style of play from game to game,” he said.

“Depending on the state of the pitch, he might go more direct. I think it’s quite ballsy to have a manager to do that and to give the confidence to his players, who have done tremendously well.”

The Herald: McCulloch continued: “Any year you win a title, of course it’s big. It’s your bread and butter. That’s the one you want. Now that Rangers are out of Europe, they can concentrate on Europe and their domestic form.

“So they have to take that positive from a negative. If Rangers do win it, it’ll be a tremendous achievement considering where they were at the start of the season. If Celtic win it, well they were expected to win it, weren’t they?”

Only six of the Rangers players who won the Premiership back in 2021 are still in the Ibrox squad – Leon Balogun, Borna Barisic, Connor Goldson, Kemar Roofe, James Tavernier and Scott Wright.

McCulloch, though, does not believe that the current leaders, who have played one game more than their nearest challengers, have any significant advantage over them because they have been crowned champions in the past two years.

“I don’t think Celtic have got much experience when it comes to going to the wire to win a league,” he said. “And Rangers don’t either. That’s just the way the Scottish game has been lately.

“Whether that experience comes from the manager, the players in the dressing room, or the leaders in there, it’s just about keeping your composure and, most importantly, going one game at a time.”