SPFL 2017/18 Preview - Can Rodgers' Invincible Celts Be Beaten?
The new SPFL season kicks off tomorrow with 42 Scottish League clubs starting on a clean slate and hoping to achieve the varying ambitions they will have for the season ahead.
In League Two, Peterhead and Stenhousemuir will be hoping to bounce back from relegation last season and Jim McInally's Blue Toon side will be one of the favourites for the title. They could face stiff competition from the likes of Elgin City and Annan Athletic though, while Cowdenbeath will hope to avoid having to go through the nerve wracking experience of the playoffs to keep their league status as they did last term after finishing bottom of the pile.
League One promises to be an exciting league with a number of teams capable of going up to the Championship. After the disappointment of relegation Raith Rovers and Ayr United should be the strongest sides in the league though the likes of Alloa Athletic and Airdrieonians will have a big say on who goes up. Newly promoted Angus pairing Arbroath and Forfar Athletic will look to consolidate their place in the 3rd tier and avoid dropping back to League Two.
After a good number of years containing a lot of the big guns of Scottish football, this season's Championship sees Dundee United start as overwhelming favourites for the league title. Ray McKinnon has signed a lot of quality and experienced players such as Scott McDonald and Fraser Fyvie so the Terrors are well equipped to head back to the top flight. Teams like Falkirk and Caley Thistle will be in the mix though and look out for St. Mirren who performed greatly in the second half of last season to survive in the Championship.
The biggest question when it comes to Scotland's top flight will undoubtedly be "Who can stop Celtic?" Brendan Rodgers side romped to treble success last season and also completed the domestic season unbeaten.
There's no doubt that Celtic should win the league again given the talent of players in their squad like Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair and Leigh Griffiths and they are ably supported by a quality supporting cast such as Stuart Armstrong, Jonny Hayes, Scott Brown and Tom Rogic. So can any of their 11 rivals stop them and who can be the first to finally defeat Brendan Rodgers' Celtic domestically?
Main rivals Rangers start off their new season away to Motherwell and Pedro Caixanha will hope he is able to stamp his brand of football on the Ibrox side this season having taken over from Mark Warburton midway through last year's disappointing season. With new signings such as Graham Dorrans and Bruno Alves in the line-up, Rangers do look stronger than they did last year but the best they can hope for is to take 2nd spot away from Aberdeen and hopefully close the gap on Celtic.
Aberdeen have enjoyed a resurgence under Derek McInnes and were given a boost in the summer when the manager turned down Sunderland to stay with the Dons. The main challengers to Celtic last year, the Pittodrie men have strengthened their side with signings like Nicky Maynard, Ryan Christie and Gary Mackay-Steven and possess one of the best squads in Scotland - away from Celtic Park of course - to start off as favourites for the runners-up spot again. This time round the Dons will hope to go one better and win either of the Cups after losing both finals to Celtic last term.
The Edinburgh derby returns this season after Hibs won the Championship last season to retake their place at the top table. Neil Lennon's made some astute signings this summer such as Anthony Stokes and Steven Whittaker and on paper, they should be the best of the Capital pairing. Hearts start their season off at Champions Celtic just days after sacking manager Ian Cathro and face a tough task to make sure they are the pride of Edinburgh this season. With players like Kyle Lafferty and Christophe Berra in their squad, they should be fine to be in the top half.
Neil McCann rescued Dundee last season and the Dens Park side have a good enough squad to challenge for the top six. They will face a battle though with the likes of St. Johnstone and Kilmarnock to finish above the line before the split.
For the likes of Partick Thistle, Motherwell, Ross County and Hamilton, survival in the SPFL Premiership will be the key objective for the campaign ahead. However the table ends up looking after 38 games, it promises to be an exciting season in the cut-throat world of the SPFL.
Good luck to all 42 teams taking part in the Scottish Professional Football League in 2017/18!
Direct Soccer's predictions for 2017/18: Premiership: Celtic; Championship: Dundee United; League One: Raith Rovers; League Two: Peterhead
Double tap to Zoom x2