Assessing which Invincible side was better: Rangers 2021 or Celtic 2017

Gerrard and Rodgers have overseen two of the best seasons in Scottish football history
Gerrard and Rodgers have overseen two of the best seasons in Scottish football history / Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Only two teams in the history of Scottish football have gone undefeated over a 38-game league season. And we've been lucky enough to see them both in the past five years.

At their pulp, Brendan Rodgers' Celtic looked like they might never be stopped. 'Ten In a Row' seemed like a shoo-in after a season that saw them go undefeated in every domestic competition - something that has never been matched before or since.

Steven Gerrard's Rangers, though, have taken them pretty damn close. They have just finished the season with the best defensive record in Scottish top flight history, shipping just 13 goals on their way to an undefeated league season that ended a decade of misery at Ibrox.

The polarising nature of Scottish football means that debates are already well underway over which team was better. And while it's a bit redundant to argue over, considering they are both legendary feats achieved at different points in time, we're still going to take a deeper look and try to come up with some sort of objective answer.

Who was better: Rangers (2020/21) or Celtic (2016/17)?


Rangers have played some unbelievable football this season, with Alfredo Morelos, Kemar Roofe and Ryan Kent in particular setting the Premiership alight.

Their 8-0 victory over Hamilton earlier in the season was a pretty clear indicator of how much better they are than everyone else, but it speaks to the strength of Celtic's season that they still couldn't get near the amount of goals that Rodgers' team racked up.

They were a force to be reckoned with, becoming the first and only team to score more than 100 goals in a league season, and finished the campaign with an unprecedented goal difference of +81.

Moussa Dembele was the star of the show as he finished the season with 32 goals in all competitions, including three hat-tricks. But Scott Sinclair, with his 25 goals from wide left, wasn't in bad shape either.

Amazingly, they were just two of five players who broke double figures in all competitions as the Hoops simply overpowered all who came their way domestically.

Winner: Celtic


Yeah, we'd be kidding you on if we framed this as a contest. Celtic conceded less than one goal for every one they scored in 2016/17, but even that can't compare to what Rangers have just done.

Ridiculously, they conceded a paltry 13 goals in the Premiership. 13 goals, over 38 games.

Allan McGregor won the Premiership's Player of the Year award, Connor Goldson failed to miss a minute of league action, and James Tavernier - who is actually a defender despite what the numbers suggest - finished the season with 35 goal involvements.

If you came up against that in your Football Manager career, you'd just burn the save file.

Winner: Rangers

League form

Of all the categories we've compared the teams on, this is the closest run thing. Between the two, they dropped just 20 points out of a possible 228, with neither losing any of the 76 Premiership games they faced.

We're talking about the two best league campaigns Scottish football has ever seen, and there is only a hair between them.

Celtic, however, did manage 106 points. To this day it remains the most points ever achieved in Scotland. They also won the league by a gaping 31 points, the third biggest margin ever attained anywhere in Europe.

So yeah, we have a winner. Just.

Winner: Celtic

European form

While Rodgers' team dominated domestically, he was often criticised for his naive tactics in European games. That was reflected in a Champions League campaign in which they attempted to go for the jugular...and lost 7-0 to Barcelona.

To be fair, there were some credible results in there, as they managed to take points from Manchester City twice, but they ultimately crashed out of the group rock bottom, having failed to win a game.

Rangers, meanwhile, enjoyed a pretty formidable European campaign until Slavia Prague came along. They didn't lose a game in their group - which included Benfica and Standard Liege - and went on to eliminate Royal Antwerp in the round of 32.

OK, we don't know how Rangers would have fared in the Champions League, but you can only beat what's in front of you.

Winner: Rangers


Scott Brown infamously claimed after Rangers' win over Aberdeen that their rivals hadn't gone "proper Invincible."

By that, he meant that while Celtic managed to go undefeated in every domestic competition on their way to a domestic Treble, Rangers had not: since someone's goalkeeper sent them packing from the Scottish Cup in the quarter-finals.

But Celtic did lose to a team literally called Lincoln Red Imps in Champions League qualifying, so if we're shifting goalposts, we could argue that neither went truly Invincible.

In any case, Brown has a point. Celtic won all the cups in their 'Invincible' season, and one of the few criticisms levelled at Gerrard this season is that he has failed to consolidate their league dominance with additional silverware. The league was of course enough, but they would have liked a double just to ram the point home.

Winner: Celtic


Steven Gerrard, Brendan Rodgers
Gerrard and Rodgers at Parkhead in 2018 / Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

We'll never know who would win if these two great sides faced off one on one at their peak, so all we can do is look at the facts.

And while both have their claims to superiority, Celtic for the freakish amount of goals they scored and Rangers for their immaculate defensive record, it's the trophies that will be remembered in the long run.

Rangers were good. Very, very good. But measurable by their marginally superior points total and the extra silverware they managed to bag...Celtic were better.