After watching the opening weekend of the league season go bye I decided that I would jump on the bandwagon of trying to predict what the coming season has in store ! After a summer rife with anticipation given the return of Glasgow giants Rangers, new managers appointed and numerous big name signings deciding to pitch up tent in Scotland, our game is suddenly looking relatively healthy again. However, will it be the same old story of an old firm dog fight for the title ? Could Aberdeen contend yet again ? Who will beat the dreaded drop ? All of the answers to these questions lie in wait over the course of an exciting campaign. For now, I’ll leave you all with my predictions and thoughts for the upcoming season !
Champions – Celtic
The five time defending champions, under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers will claim their sixth straight Scottish flag. The addition of Rodgers in the off-season, along with new recruits Dembele, Toure and Sinclair has brought a new energy to Celtic park. Expect them to play a more attacking, dynamic style of football under the new manager, and to win more scrappy encounters than they did under Deila. Griffiths will again finish as top goalscorer with Patrick Roberts one to keep an eye on. He could sweep the individual honours in Scotland come the end of the season with his dazzling wing play and direct style. At left back expect youngster Kieran Tierney to progress further and prove that he is a real star of the future. Renewed belief and a plethora of added quality see Celtic as the team to beat.
2nd – Aberdeen
A lot of experts are expecting the return of the old firm scrapping it out atop the division, but I see Aberdeen as the strongest of the rest in the Premiership. Runners-up in the past 2 seasons and with a strong squad depth, they are a very well-oiled machine under Derek McInnes. Their attacking trio of McGinn, Rooney and Hayes is one of the most feared in the division and will give opposing back lines a lot to deal with; although they are strong all over the park, with an experienced back line and a youthful, energetic midfield led by captain Ryan Jack. Expect visiting sides to struggle at Pittodrie, and Aberdeen to push Celtic once again.
3rd – Rangers
The new boys who are back in the big time after an extended absence will look to mount a serious challenge on their return. However, inexperience at this level and defensive frailties will hurt Rangers and will inevitably see them finish outside the top two. The new addition of Joey Barton in midfield will add real steal and experience to this crucial area however; and alongside fellow new recruit, Niko Kranjcar, we could see Rangers dominate in midfield more often than not. New signing Joe Dodoo will have to step up after Martyn Waghorn’s opening day injury, but the youngster has shown potential and should have the quality to make an impact. Expect one of last year’s stand out performers in Barrie McKay to have another big year and compete for individual honours. Defensively, however, I don’t trust Rangers. I have major doubts at the centre half position and can’t really understand the signing of Clint Hill. Tavernier is a very attack minded full back but I feel that for all his attacking attributes he will be exposed defensively at a higher level. Everything said, Rangers will finish 3rd and get a crack at European football again, come next season.
4th – Hearts
The capital side will again be one of the top dogs in the premiership. In Robbie Neilson they have one of the best young managers in the country; he has got his side playing attacking, but ultimately winning football. An early Europa League exit would have hurt, but Hearts showed great fight and ambition on opening day against Celtic. The addition of Tony Watt will add a new dimension to Hearts’ attack. Playing alongside the physical Spaniard Juanma, expect a decent return of goals from the pair. Both Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson are primed for big seasons and will cause opposing defences all sorts of problems with their pace and dribbling ability respectively. Moving backwards, Hearts may well possess the best right back in the league in Calum Paterson who is both solid defensively and always a threat going forward; and the centre half pairing of John Souttar and captain Alim Ozturk looks on paper to be one of the best in the division. For however much this Hearts side may dazzle this year they undoubtedly will be undone by inconsistency and youthful exuberance, along with the lack of a killer instinct.
5th – Partick Thistle
My surprise package this season comes in the form of Partick Thistle. Their big year will see Glasgow possess 3 of the top 5 teams in the country. Over the previous few seasons, for however much they may have struggled, they have slowly established themselves as a top flight side with an ability to perform against the best sides in the nation. The retention of Steven Lawless was huge for Thistle, a player who is a real game changer, and for me, will be the driving force behind their success this season. The addition of fans favourite Chris Erskine from Dundee United will give Partick a potent threat from the wing in terms of goals and delivery for the strikers to feed on. Expect Kris Doolan and David Amoo to both have big years and weigh in with a share of goals which will inevitably parachute Thistle into the top six. The addition of Hamilton fullback Ziggy Gordon is also a decent piece of business with the defender able to add experience and grit to the Thistle rear guard. This season’s shock troops will be Partick Thistle !
6th – St Johnstone
St Johnstone under Tommy Wright have more often than not found the recipe for success. This season will be no different as the Perth side will yet again make the top 6. They are a rugged, well managed side who over the course of the season will be difficult to beat, especially at home; as Aberdeen found out at the weekend. Their midfield is one of the strongest in the league, possessing both youth and experience, alongside master technician in new signing Blair Alston from Falkirk. David Wetherspoon will again provide a threat in the wide areas through his pace and delivery, with Steven MacLean hoping to benefit. Midfielder Danny Swanson is one to watch for me, and could be in with a shout at individual honours if he plays at the level he is capable of throughout the season. All of this, coupled with a solid defence and tactically minded gaffer will see the Saints claim a top six spot.
7th – Motherwell
The Steelmen will unfortunately miss out on a top six spot, and I have them fighting Dundee tooth and nail for 7th. A battle they will ultimately win. Motherwell have a good side no doubt, but for me I don’t see them winning enough games over the course of the year to justify a top 6 spot. Purple patches will be followed by weeks of inconsistency from a squad who resonated this form throughout the whole of last season. They have a potent attack, expect many goals coming from the wide areas from Marvin Johnson and Ainsworth, both of whom are serial game winners. Scott McDonald returns, and as always we will see the Aussie hit the double digit mark in goals. Young midfielder Chris Cadden will be hoping to progress even further, after a stellar first season with the first team. Defensively Well are very youthful, led by experienced campaigner Stephen McManus and can be subject to losing goals from set pieces and cross balls. Mark McGhee will look to sure up in that area as the season progresses if Motherwell hope to claim a place in the top 6.
8th – Dundee
Under Paul Hartley the Dens Park side have played good football over the past seasons, but it hasn’t always produced a winning formula. Again, like Motherwell, with a bit of prolonged consistency this side could make the top 6. They have a side that is strong from defence to attack, and have made some decent acquisitions over the course of the summer to further strengthen. The loss of Kane Hemmings to Oxford hurt but new signing El Bakhtaoui could fill that void after impressing throughout his time at Dunfermline. Holding onto Greg Stewart is major in the coming weeks. The gifted forward could make all the difference for Dundee this season with his ability to win matches singlehandedly. In defence, Irishman Darren O’Dea could be crucial in steadying the ship and propelling Dundee towards sound defensive performances. Behind him is one of the most talented keepers in the league in Scott Bain, who will be hoping to impress Gordon Strachan and earn another call-up to the international squad. Consistency and the ability to hold onto Greg Stewart hold the key for Dundee.
9th – Ross County
Last season’s League Cup winners will come back down to earth with a bump. They didn’t finish last year very convincingly, and their opening day loss at home to Dundee was far from convincing. Just as Leicester won’t be able to repeat such achievements as last season, neither will Scotland’s overachievers County. Although I do like their squad, especially forward Alex Schalk, midfielder Gardyne and keeper Scott Fox, their depth isn’t good enough to sustain a top 6 challenge. I feel as though they will be involved in a lot of high scoring match-ups but will ultimately come out on the losing end due to defensive frailties. If they tighten up at the back Ross County may well yet crack the top 6 with their attacking options available to them, but as of yet I’m yet to see the evidence from Jim McIntyre’s squad.
10th – Hamilton
I’m stumped with Accies at the moment however I don’t see them going down, like many experts are suggesting. Their opening day performance at Ibrox showed me that they can compete with any team in the league and get results even with the odds against them. The loss of star keeper Michael McGovern in the off-season was a huge blow, although on loan Norwich keeper Matthews should provide solid cover. The signing of former Celtic midfielder Massimo Donati is huge for Accies as he will add a presence, as well as a wealth of experience to the middle of the park. Playing in front of him is star man Ali Crawford. His performance and goal against Rangers on the opening day showed the league the quality he possesses; he will be pivotal to Hamilton’s success this coming season. However, the lack of a real goal scoring striker will hurt Hamilton and could see them falling into that perilous playoff spot come the seasons end.
11th – Inverness
Having spent a fruitful six seasons in the top flight, the 2015 Scottish Cup winners will finish in the playoff spot and will ultimately lose out, seeing them drop into the championship. Ever since their famous triumph Inverness have slowly regressed. Losing star players, and manager John Hughes along the way, Inverness will feel the full effects this season. Under rookie manager Richie Foran the highlanders will struggle, and don’t be surprised to see the Irishman leave his role at some point during the season. His inexperience will come to the forefront and will be hugely detrimental to his squad. He will try to employ an attacking brand of football but will leave his defence exposed more often than not to counter attacking play. Although they may have a stronger squad than some at this end of the table, like Thistle at the other end, they will provide another shock for the Premiership. One bright light could be star midfielder Greg Tansey; denied a move to Aberdeen not so long ago, he could possibly be the spark for Inverness to surprise me and push for a higher spot.
12th – Kilmarnock
I fear for Kilmarnock. A disastrous League Cup campaign to kick off their season followed by defeat at home to Motherwell on opening day paints an ominous picture. With questions already being asked of Lee Clark and his management team, and offers coming in for star man Josh Magennis the times are bleak for Killie. Quite simply their squad isn’t good enough to compete at this level. I don’t see where the goals are coming from, the defence is fragile and the midfield doesn’t possess any standout players. Top keeper Jamie MacDonald will be in for a very tough season. He better get used to picking the ball out of his net. A very weak looking midfield will be overpowered more often than not, and their defence led by Balatoni will be lambs to the slaughter. Expect Lee Clark to be dismissed by November and Kilmarnock to win less than 7 games over the course of the campaign as they drop into the second tier of Scottish football.