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SPL: Celtic to seize an early lead in one-team title race

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Celtic are dominant SPL favourites and, by playing in the opening match, have a chance to lead from start to finish...

"The battle to be the best of the rest, though not providing the prize of Champions League football on this occasion, promises to be far more open and exciting."

The big picture

For years, the SPL has been ridiculed for a perceived lack of competitivity, but at least you could usually count on a fairly lively fight for first. Following Rangers' demise, the situation is even bleaker, with Celtic's title odds of [1.07] pointing to the most one-sided battle in the division's history.

The battle to be the best of the rest, though not providing the prize of Champions League football on this occasion, promises to be far more open and exciting.

Dundee United are rated [2.34] favourites yet started last season slowly and have lost some players to Championship clubs. Next up are Hearts at [3.4] despite the exit of boss Paulo Sergio and key men Ian Black and Rudi Skacel. Unlikely Champions League entrants Motherwell are [7.4] but will struggle to match their 2011/12 heroics.

This writer's inclination is that it will be Hearts, who are consistently competitive in defiance of seemingly endless upheaval, however St Johnstone are decent outsiders at [22.0]. They are on an upward curve and, while they will miss Francisco Sandoza, look to have bought well this summer.

The first week

The first televised game of the campaign (Sky Sports will continue showing SPL football despite fears that they would pull the plug without Old Firm derbies to draw in viewers) sees champions Celtic host Aberdeen.

Celtic haven't lost an opener since 1997/98 and have started with away wins in the last three years, so the Dons' only real hope at Parkheard is that they are complacent as their priority right now is the second leg of a Champions League qualifier with HJK Helsinki that they lead 2-1.

Craig Brown's side weren't beaten by more than a goal in three meetings with the Bhoys last season though, so backing them at +1.5 on the Asian Handicap could prove a shrewd move at around [2.1] could prove inspired.

This weekend's other five fixtures are far more open in terms of the match odds. The newcomers are capable of avoiding defeat, with Ross County welcoming Motherwell and Dundee at Kilmarnock, but just two of the last nine promoted teams won on week one, so consider the draw double at [10.4] on the new betslip.

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