Scottish football: Can anyone other than Celtic win the SPL?
The SPL gets under way this Saturday and following the demise of Glasgow Rangers nobody can see past Glasgow Celtic for the title. Neil Lennon's men finished 20 points ahead of their fierce rivals last season and a whopping 31 points ahead of third placed Motherwell. The gulf in class is obvious, but with Rangers out of the picture can anyone challenge Celtic for the title?
The Scottish game has been labelled a two-horse race for the past 25 years, with the title swinging backwards and forwards between Parkhead and Ibrox. Now Celtic are tipped to take complete control of the game in Scotland and some critics believe Celtic will have the title sewn up by October.
However, the likes of Aberdeen, Dundee United, Hibs, Hearts and Motherwell will be looking to capitalise on the demise of Rangers and the fans will be praying that their heroes seize the opportunity for success.
There was a time when Aberdeen didn't just rule the roost in Scotland, they also were the kings of Europe. In the early 80s, under the guidance of a certain Sir Alex Ferguson, the Dandy Dons broke the stanglehold Celtic and Rangers had on the game and won every domestic honour going, and even beat Real Madrid to lift the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1983.
Unfortunately the Dons have been starved of success since those halcyon days. It's been 22 years since they last won the Scottish Cup and 17 since their last success in the Coca-Cola Cup. But Scottish football needs a strong Aberdeen side. Their travelling fans are the best in the business and if anyone deserves silverware this season it's their long suffering fans.
Craig Brown's men will be without their talented young midfielder Fraser Fyvie, who has joined Wigan in the Premier League, and the influential midfielder Kari Arnasson. Former Celtic winger Niall McGinn and ICT star Jonny Hayes have arrived to provide some much needed width to the Dons' attack this season and a return of the fully-fit Russell Anderson will shore up the defence.
The Dons have enjoyed a decent pre-season and the Red Army will be roaring on their heroes, but having finished in the bottom six in the past three seasons, Bet 365 understandably have them at 150/1 for the title.
Motherwell were the best of the rest last season but Stuart McCall faces a huge struggle to keep the Well up there. They've lost their captain Stephen Craigan, defender Tim Clancey and midfielder Steve Jennings but they still boast the experience of Keith Lasley and Steven Hammell, not to mention the creativity of Henrik Ojamaa.
Not too many sides north of the border can sustain a third place finish and I think they may struggle to replicate last season's heroics. McCalls men are 80/1 at Paddy Power.
Hearts have been a consistent force in the SPL over the past few seasons. They thrashed their city rivals Hibs in the Scottish Cup final in May and start the campaign as 50/1 for the title. New boss John McGlynn has lost Ian Black, Rudi Skacel and Stephen Elliott over the summer, but with John Sutton up front and Webster and Zaliukas at the back, the Jam Tarts will definitely be in the top six.
Dundee United are tipped to be Celtic's biggest threat this season, 40/1 at Paddy Power. Like the rest of the SPL clubs, Peter Houston has lost a number of experienced players in the summer - Kenneth, Dixon and Robertson - but if they can hit the ground running like they finished last season they will fancy their chances of creating a huge shock.
Aberdeen were the last side outside of Celtic and Rangers to win the title back in 1985. Will there be a new name on the trophy this season?
Here are the odds in the SPL title race.
Celtic 1/25 Coral
Dundee United 40/1 Paddy Power
Heart 50/1 Paddy Power
Motherwell 80/1 Paddy Power
Aberdeen 125/1 Bet 365
St Johnstone 200/1 Paddy Power
Hibernian 200/1 Bet Victor
Kilmarnock 250/1 Sporting Bet
Inverness Caley Thistle 500/1 SkyBet
St Mirren 500/1 Paddy Power
Ross County 1000/1 Bet Victor
Dundee 2000/1 Bet Victor
Calling all Scottish football supporters. Who do you think will win the league this season? Can anyone stop Celtic? Where do you think your team will finish? Who do you see the top flight panning out without Rangers? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.
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