Celtic extend dominance, but chasing pack have much to fight for

Celtic eased to victory against Rangers in the first Old Firm fixture of the season. Goals from Tom Rogic and Leigh Griffiths were enough to see off Pedro Caixinha’s side, who still appeared miles behind their arch rivals in terms of quality. The result cemented Celtic’s position as strong favourites for the league.

The Hoops followed up the derby win with a rare, and outstanding, away win in Europe. A three-nil victory in Brussels over Belgian champions Anderlecht puts Brendan Rodgers’ team in a strong position to qualify for the Europa League.

Celtic’s continued supremacy over the rest of Scottish football will likely see debates about the healthiness and quality of the league carry on for the foreseeable future. If the champions can follow up their domestic dominance with a European run, they will restore some pride to a Scottish league that has struggled on the continent in recent years.

For the rest of the pack it is about trying to get as close to Celtic as possible. This is very difficult, for everyone bar Rangers, due to the vast financial gap between the Old Firm and the rest of the division.

The Gers, still recovering from their own well documented financial struggles, have shown improvement in some areas. For example, striker Alfredo Morelos is the league’s top scorer with six goals. The Glaswegians will still be viewed by many as strong contenders for the runners up spot but will have to work hard to keep pace with Aberdeen.

Like Celtic, the Dons, who have been runners up for the last three seasons, remain undefeated. Manager Derek McInnes appears to have crafted another strong squad after a few comings and goings in the summer. The next three fixtures against St Johnstone, Hibernian and Celtic will represent a stern test for Aberdeen who sit in second place after a fairly easy ride so far.

St Johnstone and Hibernian represent a threat to Rangers and Aberdeen’s control over the second and third placed spots. St Johnstone have cemented themselves as a top six team in recent years with three consecutive fourth-place finishes. Manager Tommy Wright has done an extraordinary job with a very modest budget. They have continued their good form into this season taking two points off Celtic at Parkhead. Michael O’Halloran, on loan from Rangers, has in particular enjoyed a superb start to the season with five goals.

‘Jekyll and Hyde’ Hibernian on their return to the Premiership have put in some poor performances, much to the despair of boss Neil Lennon. However, they have also shown the ability to cause an upset with an impressive victory at Ibrox as well as reaching another cup semi-final. With such an experienced manager and quality players such as Anthony Stokes and the talented Simon Murray, Hibs look dangerous going forward and should be in with a good shot of a top six finish.

Further down the table, Motherwell look to have improved from last season, impressively dumping last year’s finalists Aberdeen out of the League Cup quarter-final. Striker Louis Moult is already on five league goals for the season and Motherwell could challenge for a top six position.

Hearts, meanwhile, have taken points from Aberdeen and Rangers and seem to have recovered from a wobble last season. They remain unbeaten under ex-Scotland manager Craig Levein.

At the bottom of the table, Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle are yet to win a game while Dundee and Ross County have only one victory a piece as it stands.

Celtic should cruise to the title with their talented squad and hopefully, for the good of Scottish football, have a run in Europe. The league has added intrigue from last season with the return of Hibernian whilst Rangers look stronger as time progresses.

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Brian Hargadon

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