After an 11-week close season, the Scottish Premiership, now sponsored by cinch, returns on Saturday with Rangers beginning defence of their crown against Livingston. A full card of Premiership fixtures follow as the pre-season expectation unravels and is sewn into the reality of the new campaign.
Before things get serious, we cast an eye over how each team is shaping up for the big kick-off, their prospects and business over the summer so far.
No one quite knew what to expect from Aberdeen and Stephen Glass. They still don’t, but Thursday night’s dismantling of an ordinary looking BK Hacken has raised expectations. Glass looks to have recruited wisely and Scott Brown has slipped into the midfield with minimum fuss. He will allow those around him to play. With centre-half Declan Gallagher – suspended in Europe – due to come into the side, Aberdeen won’t be any easy touch any longer. But they also threaten to be pleasing on the eye which will be a bonus for their fans – Christian Ramirez is an all-action centre forward who is already linking up well with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Ryan Hedges. Third – or perhaps higher – does not look beyond Aberdeen if they can keep these key players fit.
Key signing: Aberdeen are desperate for a No 9 who does No 9 things. Christian Ramirez looks the real deal.
Key departure: None of the departed has necessitated wailing and gnashing of teeth but Tommie Hoban was always dependable.
One to watch: Full back Calvin Ramsay fits the bill. Great things are expected of the teenager, who turns 18 next weekend.
It is a new era for Celtic Football Club. New chief executive, new manager and, in time, a new squad. The change in the football landscape across the past 12 months at the top of the Premiership has been stark. Having been the hunted for so long, Celtic are now the hunters. It is hard to see the Parkhead club toppling rivals Rangers. Steven Gerrard has a settled side, while there just seems to be too much to fix for new boss Ange Postecoglou who will look to instil a new way of playing. He has talked a good game. Celtic should be exciting to watch and play with plenty of energy. Already seen with some of the recruits like Liel Abada and Kyogo Furuhashi. Key areas in the starting XI still require a bit of TLC and it is likely they will be playing catch up after the Eddie Howe farrago. It will be interesting, that is for sure.
Key arrival: Celtic clearly need to strengthen their defence and Carl Starfelt arrives with a good pedigree.
Key departure: Maybe not on the pitch but it will be interesting to see how Scott Brown’s absence is felt in a new era for the club.
One to watch: On his day one of the most dangerous attackers in the country, it will be interesting to see what tune Ange Postecoglou can get out of countryman Tom Rogic.
In many ways, this could be viewed as a bonus season of Premiership football for Dundee. As recently as March, their promotion hopes looked slim. However, they then put together a remarkable run of form to replace Kilmarnock in the top flight and the squad which came good towards the end, has been augmented by defenders Ryan Sweeney and Corey Panter. Luke McCowan arrived from Ayr United while Paul McMullan has also become a bona fide member of the squad after his loan from Dundee United. Cillian Sheridan, meanwhile, provides another option up front following the departure of Osman Sow, last season’s top scorer. Much will depend on those charged with providing goals, but Jason Cummings will relish the chance of playing Premiership football again and in Charlie Adam, Dundee have someone able to unlock any defence with a single pass.
Key signing: Luke McCowan. Scored in midweek against Montrose and looks full of energy.
Key departure: Dundee’s squad is generally intact, but the loss of Osman Sow does rob Dundee of a handy option.
One to watch: Fin Robertson. Last season was a wipe out because of injury but still only 18, time is on the young Dundonian midfielder’s side as he looks to demonstrate that he can be Charlie Adam’s heir apparent.
Tam Courts’ appointment as manager over the summer to replace Micky Mellon adds an air of the unknown to United’s season.The early signs have been positive; the recruitment of Charlie Mulgrew, the results in the Premier Sports Cup and return to form of Lawrence Shankland, all bode well. So too does Courts’ knowledge of the youth players United are seeking to integrate into the first team. Mellon’s faith and foundations began to show the strength of the structure but the end of the season came at just the wrong time as United found form.A group which has largely stayed stable over the summer is young, but not as meek as many think. Much will be asked of Shankland, Mulgrew, Peter Pawlett and Nicky Clark - an experienced quartet worthy of selection at most Premiership clubs, laying a foundation for Courts to better last season’s ninth place.
Key arrival: Charlie Mulgrew adds set-piece capabilities on-the-field as well as vast experience and leadership off it.
Key departure: Paul McMullan could come back to haunt United after moving across the road to Dundee, but losing Micky Mellon just as he seemed to have found the formula could be the more significant exit from Tannadice.
One to watch: Farmed out to Falkirk last season, Lewis Neilson showed an assured dependability that will surely grant him an extended run in the first-team this season.
The Tynecastle club are back in the top-flight at the first time of asking and there will be those within the support who feel there are points to prove and scores to settle over the nature of the club’s demotion to the Championship. The return to the Premiership will be a case of evolution rather than revolution. Regarding the transfer market it has been the quietest summer in Gorgie since 2013. Robbie Neilson may well have work to do to win over some of the Hearts support but has a squad packed with Premiership experience and a strong spine, from Craig Gordon to Liam Boyce via John Souttar and Peter Haring. Expect the Jam Tarts to play a 3-4-3 system which features plenty of flexibility and versatility. The minimum expected is a top-six finish but supporter ambition is for the team to be challenging for the European spots.
Key arrival: Josh Ginnelly signing on a permanent deal went down well with fans and adds pace, directness and a goal threat.
Key departure: Andy Irving’s decision to swap Edinburgh for Munich robs Hearts of a deep-lying playmaker.
One to watch: He’s been through injury hell but John Souttar fit, feeling great and looks in fine shape. He makes Hearts a better side.
After a hugely successful 2020/21 campaign that resulted in a third-placed finish, European football, a Scottish Cup final berth and a League Cup semi-final, the challenge for manager Jack Ross will be to maintain such lofty standards. The competition will be stronger from Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee United this time around. Much-coveted quartet Martin Boyle, Ryan Porteous, Kevin Nisbet and Josh Doig are still at Easter Road, but there are hungry eyes set on them from predators south of the border. Paul Hanlon is the new captain and Hibs will need to reinforce their defence, with St Johnstone centre-half Jamie McCart high on their wishlist. Ross will be keen to hit the ground running, with a favourable first three matches against Motherwell, Ross County and newly-promoted Dundee to kick things off.
Key signing: Daniel Mackay has joined from Inverness and is one of Scottish football's brightest prospects.
Key departure: Goalkeeper Ofir Marciano chose pastures new with Feyenoord after five years in Edinburgh.
One to watch: Back to full fitness, Scott Allan will be like a new signing in the Hibs midfield.
The signing of Andrew Shinnie is a statement of intent at Almondvale. Livingston do not wish to go down as a one-and-three-quarter season wonder. Many anticipate a difficult campaign ahead for Dave Martindale’s side after the highs of recent times. Indeed, some wonder whether the struggles in the last few months of last season, where they won only one of their last 12 league outings to miss a coveted place in Europe, is the sign of a club already on the slide. Martindale has sought to avert this by signing a new team. Eleven – count ‘em – signings, so far.
Add Shinnie to several other imaginative signings, including left sided Colombian Christian Montano, and Livingston could yet put together another strong campaign after two successive top six finishes. Whatever happens, it’s bound to be interesting as Martindale, who now has Marvin Bartley as an assistant, gears up for a first full season in charge.
Key arrival: Andrew Shinnie. Can he provide the thrust lost since Scott Robinson disappeared?
Key departure: As above. Robinson has been a key part in Livingston’s recent success.
One to watch: Left back Adam Lewis has been brought on loan from Liverpool but with a surfeit of left backs at the club he might be used in midfield.
This could be a difficult season for Motherwell manager Graham Alexander, who has had to contend with a slew of departures from last season's squad. He has been vocal about the need to reinforce areas of his team but the voids of Scotland defender Declan Gallagher, midfield tyro Allan Campbell and striker Devante Cole will not be easily filled. Performances in the Premier Sports Cup, while never the benchmark for the league campaign, have not been outstanding, and underline why transfer activity is needed. Liam Kelly’s return on a permanent deal from QPR after last season's successful loan helps and the experience of seasoned campaigners such as Scotland defender Stephen O'Donnell will be vital with numerous new faces expected to need time to bed in.
Key signing: Liam Kelly is one of the league's best goalkeepers and could keep Motherwell out of trouble.
Key departure: Allan Campbell ran Motherwell's midfield for several seasons and is an impossible man to replace given the club's resources.
One to watch: Liam Donnelly missed most of last season due to injury but, when fully fit, gives Motherwell such a solid platform in midfield.
It took three years but Steven Gerrard has restored Ibrox standards after season 2020-21, now Rangers have to continue to live up to those expectations.Juggling domestic duties with a potentially higher level in Europe, while adding a cup or two in front of a returning and expectant crowd, is a tough schedule but based on 12-months’ evidence, they are able.There will be added pressure and an added target on their backs too, not just as defending champions. The unbeaten league sequence seldom looked like slipping and while few, if any, look capable of knocking Rangers from their perch there is kudos to be had for whoever can land the first league defeat on the champions since March 2020.Strengthening the squad and grip on the title with progress elsewhere will represent success in 2021-22 and with John Lundstram on board already, defending the crown they toiled so long to regain won’t be one Rangers let go easily.
Key arrival: John Lundstram. Rangers’ midfield already had grace, poise and patience in Davis, Kamara and Jack - now they have added power with the Liverpudlian recruit from Sheffield United.
Key departure: None so far. Any Alfredo Morelos exit would leave them light upfront especially with Kemar Roofe suspended in Europe - but despite links to Porto there’s no cause to seek a replacement for the Colombian’s goals just yet.
One to watch: How Steven Gerrard fits Nathan Patterson in a team alongside captain James Tavernier will be as interesting as watching the youngster flourish after his breakthrough season.
Malky Mackay has quite a job on his hands. Taking on the 10th placed Staggies is one in itself after last season’s scrape with the drop, but reaction to his appointment also tasks him with answering critics in the process - and fate hasn’t been kind in Dingwall so far.As if the initial appointment didn’t pile the pressure on, the spread of covid amongst the Highland club has forced the forfeit of the Premier Sports Cup games against Forfar and Dundee, eliminating the Staggies before they’d kicked a ball. Stuart Kettlewell had a similarly disrupted start last season and it didn’t go well and early signs point to another struggle this term.
Signing Ross Callachan from relegated Hamilton will toughen up the starting XI but they’ve faced a tough time in the Highlands already.
Key arrival: Ross Callachan was a stand-out amongst a poor Hamilton side last season and playing in Dingwall he will be central to Malky Mackay’s plans.
Key departure: There were several but Iain Vigurs was one of many well-known players to leave last term and his influence off the pitch as well as on it could be a miss.
One to watch: Canadian international Harry Paton is steadily improving year-on-year and played beside Callachan can be given licence to create.
For Callum Davidson and St Johnstone? How do you follow up a double winning campaign? Winning a European trophy, obviously. Once celebrations had subsided or simply calmed down, it has been a nervy summer with a number of the team’s key assets linked with a move away. There was a real feeling the band would be broken up. While that could still be the case, if St Johnstone go into the league season with a settled squad who suit the style Davidson wants they will be looking towards the upper echelons of the league if they can score more goals. They have a good start with games against Ross County, Motherwell, Dundee United and St Mirren and should fancy their chances of improving upon a record which currently stands at just four defeats in 25 with Aberdeen the only team outwith the Old Firm to defeat them.
Key arrival: Width is important to St Johnstone so the arrivals of James Brown and Reece Devine provide depth and competition in wide areas.
Key departure: It may still come but of those who have left Guy Melamed will be missed after his impact last campaign having built a good understanding with Chris Kane.
One to watch: Callum Hendry returns to the club after his loan with Aberdeen and with Guy Melamed having left could become an asset in attack once more.
Last term was laced with regrets for Jim Goodwin and his players. They nearly made it to two finals, but fell at the semi stage to Livingston and St Johnstone. Then a late goal by Hamilton Accies deprived them of a top-six spot so dearly craved by all at Paisley. The job now will be to make that next step, with the Buddies board an ambitious bunch. What St Mirren should not lack this season is firepower, with Curtis Main added to a forward line that includes Kristian Dennis, Lee Erwin and Eamonn Brophy. Their most sought-after player this summer is Irish midfielder Jamie McGrath, with Goodwin asking for bids sooner rather than later so he can nail down his squad. If they can keep him, St Mirren could be a dangerous opponent for many.
Key signing: Curtis Main struggled at Aberdeen, but his time at Motherwell shows he can lead the line and be a pest at this level.
Key departure: Jake Doyle-Hayes pulled the strings for Saints last season, but he will be a Hibs player in 21/22 campaign.
One to watch: Ethan Erhahon, comfortable in defence and midfield, has been in the first-team picture for two years and could really stand out now.