Aberdeen fine-tune but still Celtic's title to lose

Will Celtic scarves be waving in Premier League glory come the end of the season?
Will Celtic scarves be waving in Premier League glory come the end of the season?

Aberdeen will have to battle history as they look to end Celtic's recent run of titles in Scotland.

Ultimately, Celtic lost just four times last season and a repeat performance is likely to garner yet another title. Joe Chalmers, Teemu Pukki, Adam Matthews and Jordan Hart have all exited the club, along with loanee Guidetti, with Saidy Janko, Logan Bailly, Dedryck Boyata and Nadir Ciftci all arriving.

It has been over 30 years since a side other than Celtic or Rangers ruled Scottish football and with Rangers in the Championship and Celtic going for their fifth consecutive title, nothing seems likely to change.

Aberdeen did the trick two years running back in 1983-84 and 1984-85 and would seem the most likely side of any to mount some form of a challenge.

Adam Rooney led the league with 18 goals last season as the Dons finished second behind the champions and ahead of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The addition of Kenny McLean from St Mirren in January signalled Aberdeen's intent, but an under-the-radar signing this summer will be worth watching.

Striker Joe Nuttall has moved to Pittodrie from Manchester City where the 18-year old impressed for the youth set-up. With no place for him at City, where even former Celtic loan star John Guidetti could not get a sniff of action, Nuttall has wisely chosen to move on and the Dons could offer the youngster a real opportunity.

With the likes of Rooney, Niall McGinn and David Goodwillie all available to manager Derek McInnes, Nuttall will have to be patient for his chance. Not so Liverpool goalkeeper Danny Ward who arrives on loan for the year and could easily supplant Scott Brown as first choice. That has already been the case in the Europa League qualifiers although the Premiership may well be another story.

Europe is a double-edged sword with Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Johnstone having already crashed out of the Europa League at the first attempt this season. Success in Europe is important for the Scottish football community as a whole and on an individual basis the promise of European football attracts a better quality of player.

Caledonian Thistle finished a surprise third last season although some of that had more to do with the transfer dealings of Celtic and the departure of Alex Neil from Hamilton Academicals to Norwich City in the English Championship.

Celtic's strip-mining of Dundee United and the poor form of the Accies after Neil left may have opened up the opportunity but it still required Inverness to grab hold of the chance, which they duly did for the best finish in the club's history.

As United, Dundee and Hamilton all fell away, manager John Hughes kept the team focused on their league push while also winning the Scottish Cup. St Mirren, Partick Thistle, Raith Rovers and Celtic could not get the better of Caledonian Thistle on the way to the final at Hampden Park with the Premiership side defeating Falkirk 2-1 in the final.

Notably this was achieved after Billy McKay left in January as the Northern Irish player moved down to England to play for Wigan. Lethal for the Highlanders, McKay failed to score in nine appearances and it would be no surprise if the 26-year old striker returned north of the border later this season.

Over in Edinburgh, Hearts return to the top tier after a strong campaign in the Championship saw them gain promotion. They replace St Mirren who paid the price for the McLean deal and the Buddies must now battle the likes of Rangers and Hibernian if they wish to emulate Hearts and bounce back at the first attempt.

The returnees have been noticeably quiet in their transfer dealings with only a handful of new players brought in. Faith in those that got you there is laudable, but sometimes not very practical and it will be interesting to see how Hearts respond based on their first month back in the Premiership.

Down at Rugby Park an old familiar face returns as Kris Boyd has rejoined the club from Rangers. The Scottish international is joined by former team-mates Lee McCulloch and Steven Smith along with the likes of Dale Carrick and Scott Robinson from Hearts, Kallum Higginbotham from Partick Thistle and Jamie MacDonald from Falkirk.

Stuart Findlay arrives on loan from Celtic as the Killies look to improve on a disappointing 10th-place finish. Any kind of return to form by Boyd, who struggled last season, would very likely produce such a result.

Runners-up in 2014 when they pushed Aberdeen into third, Motherwell had a miserable season, exasperated in many ways by the strong start made by their Lanarkshire rivals. While the Accies were flying high and beating the defending champions at Celtic Park, Motherwell seemed perpetually stuck in first gear, unable to find the form and passion of the past.

Stuart McCall resigned in November in what was a clear attempt at self-sacrifice to inject some life into the club, but ultimately the Steelmen ended up in the play-offs.

There, Motherwell got the better of Rangers over the two legs, but with the Gers looking to be more stable this season, such an outcome would be unlikely a second time were the same scenario to present itself this year.

Ultimately, Celtic lost just four times last season and a repeat performance is likely to garner yet another title. Joe Chalmers, Teemu Pukki, Adam Matthews and Jordan Hart have all exited the club, along with loanee Guidetti, with Saidy Janko, Logan Bailly, Dedryck Boyata and Nadir Ciftci all arriving.

Ciftci joins former team-mates Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong, who arrived in January, in what seemed a calculated attempt to both improve the side and also stop Dundee United's momentum.

The Manchester duo of Janko and Boyata, from United and City respectively, should help fortify the Bhoys' back line and the understanding of Mackay-Steven, Armstrong and Ciftci could well be a crucial factor in a better European campaign.

The bottom line is one that fans of other clubs may disagree with - Celtic miss Rangers. The league just isn't the same without the Old Firm battling at the top and carrying the flag in Europe.

For now Aberdeen seems well poised this campaign to make a challenge while at the bottom Hamilton could be surprise strugglers after failing to respond to player-manager Martin Canning.

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