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SPFL Season Preview: Rangers vs Celtic – Here We Go (Again)

The 2023/24 Scottish Premiership season gets underway this weekend with one question hanging on everyone’s lips – who can stop Celtic and Rangers?

Given that you have to go back to the 1980s to find the last time one of the big two didn’t win the Scottish title, the likely answer is ‘no one’.

Celtic head into the new campaign as reigning champions and with a new manager – albeit one who is very familiar with the club.

Rangers will be desperate to stop them and have undergone a significant squad overhaul in their bid to claim the crown for the first time since 2021.

With the Scottish Premiership kicking off on Saturday, we have assessed the league to determine some of the key issues, starting with the title race.

Celtic & Rangers set to continue their dominance

A quick look at the summer transfer business in the Scottish Premiership highlights the financial disparity between the big two and the other clubs.

Celtic and Rangers have collectively spent around £25 million – approximately ten times more than all of the other clubs have shelled out.

The Hoops romped home by a seven-point margin last season, but Rangers manager Michael Beale will believe they can bridge the gap this time around.

Several established first-team players have left Ibrox including Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos, Scott Arfield and Malik Tillman.

Beale has focused on strengthening his forward options, shelling out sizeable fees for Danilo, Cyriel Dessers and Sam Lammers.

Abdallah Sima has also arrived on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion, and the winger will be expected to provide plenty of ammunition for the forwards.

Goalkeeper Jack Butland has been signed on a permanent deal from Crystal Palace and should be a reliable replacement for Allan McGregor.

Dujon Sterling, Kieran Dowell and Leon Balogun are notable additions to a squad that will expect to knock Celtic off their perch this season.

With Ange Postecoglou leaving Celtic to become Tottenham Hotspur’s manager, the club have turned to a safe pair of hands to replace the popular Australian.

Brendan Rodgers has returned to Celtic following his dramatic exit in 2019 when he was lured away by then-Premier League outfit Leicester City.

Rodgers initially justified that decision, guiding the Foxes to three successive top-eight finishes and FA Cup success in 2020/21.

However, he was sacked by the club in April 2023 after a dismal campaign which saw Leicester relegated at the end of the season.

While some fans have not forgiven Rodgers for jumping ship four years ago, their mood will soften if the Northern Irishman hits the ground running.

Although he has inherited a talented squad at Celtic, the loss of winger Jota to the Saudi Pro League is a significant blow.

Celtic have reinvested some of the bumper fee on several new signings, but it may take time for them to settle if the recent pre-season game against Athletic Bilbao is anything to go by.

Polish defender Maik Nawrocki looked decent enough alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers, although he did lose possession in dangerous areas on a couple of occasions.

Kwon Hyeok-kyu and Yang Hyun-jun both struggled to make their mark further forward and will need to improve quickly once the season starts.

Odin Thiago Holm looked solid in midfield, breaking up play well before picking out his teammates with some excellent forward passes.

He looks to be the type of player who will create chances for forward Kyogo Kuruhashi – a factor which could be crucial in the title race.

Celtic are undoubtedly worthy favourites to retain the crown, but we have a sneaky suspicion that Rangers have done better in the transfer market this summer.

On that basis, they are just about fancied to pip their Glasgow rivals to top spot, but it will be close.

Any one from three for third place

Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibernian have each finished third once in the last three seasons, and we expect them to be battling for the same spot this term.

The Dons finished three points ahead of Hearts last season with Hibs a further two points adrift, and there will be little to choose between them again last season.

Aberdeen have several new faces in their squad, but their hopes of finishing third could be impacted by their participation in Europe.

This factor hindered Hearts last year and could have the same effect on a Dons squad that may not have the depth to cope with injuries.

Hearts probably should have finished third last season, but a poor run towards the end of the campaign scuppered their chances.

Several players have left the club this summer, but manager Steven Naismith has not made too many moves in the summer transfer window.

By contrast, Hibs have been active in the market, using the fee they received from Millwall for Kevin Nisbet to strengthen their squad.

Striker Dylan Vente is their biggest summer signing, and his scoring record for Roda JC suggests he will be a handful in the Scottish Premiership.

Hibs have plenty of other attacking options at their disposal and look to be the value bet to finish ahead of Aberdeen and Hearts in the race for third place.

Picking a team to do down is no easy task, with little to choose between the handful of clubs expected to struggle this season.

St Johnstone have lost nine players from last season’s squad – which makes their decision to sign only two new players look baffling.

The Saints looked poor during the Scottish League Cup group stage, losing three of their four matches to exit the competition.

Having finished behind Ayr United and Stirling Albion in their group, St Johnstone will head into the new league campaign in a deflated frame of mind.

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