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Scottish Premiership: Things to watch out for on opening weekend

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The new Scottish Premiership season roars into action this weekend and it’s worth shouting, singing and chanting about.

Joyfully, fans are back in stadiums in increasing numbers to vociferously back their team and vent frustration.

Hope springs eternal – perhaps unless you’re a Celtic fan – as a fresh campaign offers tantalising opportunities for success and new heroes to be made.

With the top flight the strongest it’s been in years, here’s what to look out for on opening weekend

Hearts bidding to deepen Celtic crisis

Two games into his tenure, Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic are already in crisis mode. The Champions League exit to Midtjylland has heightened fans’ anger at the board as Postecolgou continues to be stymied by a lack of signings.

There’s no respite on the domestic front, where the Australian’s first assignment takes him to Tynecastle. Celtic’s brittle and youthful defence needs all the help it can get, so will Swedish defender Carl Starfelt – who is free of quarantine and has declared himself ready – be thrown straight in for a debut?

Celtic have won their opening-day fixture 13 seasons in succession, and the club’s six previous managers all started with a league victory, with Gordon Strachan the last to slip up with a draw at Motherwell in 2005.

Should Postecoglou continue those trends, he’ll need Celtic to match the fighting spirit of newly-promoted Hearts side who return to the top flight with a point to prove after their contentious relegation.

Robbie Neilson could do with an early scalp as he bids to cast off the shadow of last season’s Scottish Cup calamity against Brora Rangers. He’ll have Hearts right up for this one. A fascinating encounter awaits.

Can Adam get Dundee off to a flier?

A dream more than 30 years in the making will be fulfilled on Saturday when Charlie Adam leads out boyhood club Dundee in the top flight.

The former Scotland midfielder was a major factor in the Dens men’s promotion success as they scrambled through the play-offs to end a two-season exile.

Survival is now the aim – and the club’s last Premiership campaign in 2018-19 is a salutary lesson in how not to go about it. Back then, Dundee opened with six straight defeats and lost 11 of their first 12. Relegation beckoned.

A winning start this time will be no easy feat against St Mirren. It’s a measure of far the Paisley club have come that their best league season in 32 years – last term’s seventh-place finish – came with a big dollop of disappointment.

Jim Goodwin’s side let a top-six spot slip from their grasp – missing out by two goals – and lost in the semi-finals of both the Scottish and League Cup.

A team already short on goals has lost midfielders Jake Doyle-Hayes and Ilkay Durmus, but whether free-scoring Irishman Jamie McGrath follows that pair out of door may shape St Mirren’s fortunes.

Double winners seek further progress

There are hard acts to follow and then there is Callum Davidson’s debut season as a manager.

St Johnstone had won one major trophy in their 126-year existence until last season when, with Davidson at the helm, they claimed two in three months. A fifth-place league finish and European spot were thrown in for good measure to complement League Cup and Scottish Cup success.

How on earth do you improve on that lot? The reality is they can’t, but Davidson can certainly improve on last season’s slow start to the Premiership. The Perth men propped up the table in October, after just one win and seven defeats in their opening 10.

Davidson will demand better this time, starting against Ross County who have turned to Malky Mackay after John Hughes was jettisoned despite preserving the club’s Premiership status.

Mackay is back in management for the first time in six years and his controversial past ensures he will be under close scrutiny.

County, having already by disrupted by a Covid-19 outbreak this summer, start the season as favourites to finish bottom – it’s up to Mackay to prove the doomsayers wrong.

New boss Courts has it all to prove

It’s fair to say Tam Courts wasn’t the guy most Dundee United supporters had in mind to fill the managerial vacancy when manager Micky Mellon returned south after one season.

Mellon steered United to safety in their first year after promotion, but it was turgid stuff at times and the Tannadice men were the top flight’s lowest scorers with just 32 goals in 38 games.

Courts, promoted from head of tactical performance to head coach, faces a steep learning curve. Having only previously managed in the Lowland League with Kelty Hearts, he is now thrust into the Premiership deep end.

The 39-year-old could do worse than instilling a more adventurous style, which would better utilise Scotland striker Lawrence Shankland, who was starved of service under Mellon.

Will new manager Tam Courts reinvigorate Dundee United's star striker Lawrence Shankland?
Will new manager Tam Courts reinvigorate Dundee United’s star striker Lawrence Shankland?

A New Firm derby at Pittodrie is a difficult start, but provides the opportunity to lay down a marker.

And if Courts needs inspiration, he can cast a glance at the opposite dugout. Stephen Glass has now had four months at the helm of Aberdeen and his imprint is becoming clear.

European progress against BK Hacken on Thursday was more fraught than expected, but last week’s scintillating 5-1 first-leg win showcased Glass’ new-look team at its attacking best.

Can they reproduce that form in a fixture that numbed the senses last season with just one goal in three league meetings?

All change at Fir Park

Graham Alexander achieved what he was brought to do last season – keep Motherwell in the Premiership – but an even tougher challenge starts now after another summer of change at Fir Park.

Most notable among the departures were Scotland defender Declan Gallagher, key midfielder Allan Campbell and top scorer Devante Cole.

An influx of signings – the majority with no experience of Scottish football – have been added and Alexander needs them to the hit the ground running if another survival sweat is to be avoided.

Hibs have proved at adept at that, winning their opening game in all four seasons since promotion.

A tad surprisingly, Hibs head to Fir Park with their prize assets still at the club. Josh Doig, Ryan Porteous, Kevin Nisbet and Martin Boyle have all been subject of interest but no deals have yet been struck.

Last season’s third-place finish was Hibs’ highest in 16 years, helping to earn head coach Jack Ross a new contract. Resting on his laurels isn’t an option amid renewed competition.

Sourced From BBC

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