Scottish Premiership preview: What’s in store in 2018/19?

From Celtic aiming for eight and Steven Gerrard’s Rangers test to players to watch – Sky Sports’ Charles Paterson highlights what to look out for in the Scottish Premiership this season…

Champions going for eight-in-a-row

Celtic kick off at home to newly-promoted Livingston on Saturday, yet their season is well underway as they negotiate the hazardous path towards the Champions League.

Europe remains the ultimate benchmark where Celtic are judged, as domestically they have no equal – in May they became the first Scottish team to secure back-to-back “trebles”, a feat that even outstripped the iconic Lisbon Lions.

Last season there were signs that Celtic were treading water. A decline in standards from the sensational “invincible” campaign in Brendan Rodgers’ first year was inevitable, yet Celtic won the league with 84 points, 24 less than in 2016/2017. They conceded the same number of goals, but scored 33 less than the year before.

Thus far in the transfer market, Celtic have been largely quiet. The most significant move has been making Odsonne Edouard’s loan deal a permanent one for a club-record fee. In midfield, Stuart Armstrong and Patrick Roberts have both left; in their place are Ryan Christie and Lewis Morgan, both fresh from loan spells. Celtic have had three offers for John McGinn of Hibernian rejected, and the feeling persists Rodgers wants one or two extra faces.

Celtic start as heavy favourites to win an eighth successive league title; whether the gap to them closes, depends on those chasing.

The Gerrard impact

Following the fortunes of Rangers is nothing if not dull. After the disastrous reign of Pedro Caixinha and the bizarre appointment of Graeme Murty, the Rangers board made worldwide headlines when they then moved to secure a British football icon as their new manager.

Steven Gerrard brings a glittering CV, high standards and an unmistakable aura to Ibrox – as well as a global profile bigger than the club he’s managing (Gerrard’s 7.4million Instagram followers dwarfs that of Rangers, who have a mere 193,000). The former Liverpool captain’s arrival in Scottish football is the most intriguing development of the summer.

Gerrard has quickly off-loaded much of the squad he inherited, and made 10 new signings so far. Immediately Rangers look more balanced and secure. After conceding 50 league goals last season, new centre-halves Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic have already made an impact, suggesting Rangers will be tougher to break down.

There is a lack of depth in attack, highlighted by the ongoing bid to sign Kyle Lafferty from Hearts. Doubts remain as to whether Rangers have enough firepower to go toe to toe with Celtic over an entire season, with Alfredo Morelos not yet proven as a reliable long-term first pick.

Rangers have not offered a credible title challenge since the club’s financial meltdown, but appear to be in better shape with Gerrard at the helm. For his first season to be judged a success, finishing second in the league, plus winning a cup, is probably the minimum requirement.

Aberdeen vs Rangers

August 5, 2018, 12:30pm

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It is often forgotten that the second-best team in the land for the last four years has been Aberdeen. Derek McInnes has established an impressive level of consistency at Pittodrie, but once again, he must rebuild after losing some vital players.

Kenny McLean and Ryan Christie, once the creative heartbeat in midfield, have both moved on, as has long-serving striker Adam Rooney. After attaining 70 points in four consecutive seasons, replicating that feat and finishing in the top two again, or winning a trophy, could be McInnes’ greatest achievement so far.

Hibernian are arguably the most entertaining side to watch in Scotland, and combined flair with results to push Aberdeen and Rangers all the way last season. They start this campaign weaker, with Brandon Barker, Dylan McGeouch and Jamie Maclaren all away. The future of John McGinn is now Neil Lennon’s top priority; interest from Celtic has turned the Scotland midfielder’s head, but he remains at Easter Road for now.

Defensively Hibernian must tighten up – in their last seven matches in all competitions, they’ve scored 26 goals but conceded 17. Their style of play creates chances but at times leaves them exposed; another push for Europe is achievable if Lennon can strike a balance.

Hearts underachieved last season, during a campaign unsettled by building work at Tynecastle and the sacking of Ian Cathro. Director of Football Craig Levein took over and then admitted that the club’s recruitment – which he was in charge of – had not been good enough. This summer 13 new players have arrived, and a European place is the least the support will demand.

Look out for…

Chris Cadden… Motherwell’s flying winger who, on his day, is one of the most exciting young talents in the Scottish game. Hearts tried to buy him a year ago; Aberdeen and Rangers have both been credited with an interest. He made his Scotland debut in June, but this season could be when his talent truly explodes.

Kilmarnock… who’ve lost just six league games since Steve Clarke became manager, and finished last season with their record top-flight points total. If the evergreen Kris Boyd continues finding the net as regularly as he appears on TV in a punditry capacity, expect Killie – in their 150th anniversary year – to provide a stern test for any team.

Kenny Miller… both on the pitch AND in the dugout, as player-manager of newly-promoted Livingston. The former Scotland striker left Rangers under a cloud, only to quickly take his first management job. As someone who’s never shied away from tough questions, how the 38-year-old handles his new role will prove fascinating.

Hamilton… the Houdini act of the top flight. Year after year, Accies are favourites for relegation, but somehow escape the drop. On a new and improved artificial surface, Martin Canning’s team will try to prove the doubters wrong once again – it’s just a shame they don’t attract a bigger local support to appreciate their efforts.

Hearts vs Celtic

August 11, 2018, 12:00pm

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Cammy Kerr… Dundee’s hometown hero and the club’s most valuable asset. His emergence has been noted in England – he’s reportedly on the radar of Hull City – and Neil McCann is desperate to keep him at Dens Park. Dundee’s attractive style didn’t produce the points expected last season, but when it worked the young full-back was often a central part of the success.

St Mirren… resurgent last year under Jack Ross, but now dealing with his departure as they return to the top flight. New manager Alan Stubbs has fewer tools at his disposal than he had at Hibernian, where he won the Scottish Cup but couldn’t achieve promotion. If he can keep the Paisley side in the Premiership then his first season will be deemed a success.

Tony Watt… back in Scottish football with St Johnstone. After scoring one of Celtic’s most famous goals ever against Barcelona, Watt has wandered through Belgian, English and Welsh football – with a brief stop at Hearts. In between, the striker found time to set up a movie review website… Tommy Wright is the latest man to try and unlock Watt’s talent.

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