The friendlies have finished, the League Cup is on the back burner and the European competitions can be forgotten this weekend – the Premiership is back.
After the strangest season in history, fans are looking for a return to normality, insofar as Scottish football is ever normal.
The numbers may not be at the levels anyone wants yet, but there will be supporters in every stadium on the opening weekend, and they’ll all have hopes and expectations.
The promotion of Hearts and Dundee brings back a couple of city derbies, and clubs across the league have been strengthening.
We’ve looked at each side and how they are prepared for the challenges ahead.
Stephen Glass may have taken charge towards the end of last season, but this summer feels like the start of something new at Pittodrie. Scott Brown has joined as player-coach, along with a handful of exciting new signings.
The first major test was encouraging, with a 5-1 demolition of Hacken thrilling fans, but there’s a big challenge ahead to finish high in the Premiership and compete for silverware. Last season brought a fourth-place finish and a points tally closer to the bottom than the top.
Improvement is expected and excitement around the club is high.
After their domestic dominance ended in spectacular fashion, Celtic start this campaign under a new manager; Ange Postecoglou has vowed to deliver attacking, entertaining football.
He’ll attempt to do so with a new-look squad. Five players have been added and many more are needed as they attempt to mount a title challenge. Kristoffer Ajer – a mainstay in the defence – has gone and striker Odsonne Eduoard is set to follow suit.
A big turnaround of players will present challenges, not least how quickly they settle and gel. The club’s elimination from the Champions League has already put them behind the eight ball.
Supporters’ anger following the defeat to Midtylland is directed towards the board, not Postecogolou, who at his first media conferences warned he needed new signings ‘’yesterday’’.
Unless the Australian gets the backing he needs to win trophies, this could be another long season for the Celtic faithful.
James McPake’s side earned their Premiership place the hard way, coming through the play-offs after a testing Championship season, and they’ll find no respite on their return to the top flight.
The core of last season’s team remains, with Charlie Adam’s experience and skill a hugely valuable asset. Cillian Sheridan and Luke McCowan have arrived to offer new options in an attack that already features Jason Cummings.
The return of derbies against United will be a welcome addition to the calendar, but in the bigger picture, Dundee’s main task is to steer clear of the drop zone.
Local bragging rights are a bonus.
United were a year ahead of their city neighbours in returning to the top division and made a decent fist of re-establishing themselves with a ninth-place finish.
Regardless, the club made a big change, allowing manager Micky Mellon to return to Tranmere and promoting Tam Courts from within. Courts will be expected to showcase the young talent the club has traditionally produced, and deliver attacking football while climbing the table. It’s no small task.
There hasn’t been much in the way of recruitment, but Charlie Mulgrew has returned and his know-how could be crucial. A flawless record in the League Cup group stage was an encouraging start for Courts and the new project, but the pressure could be on if a difficult-looking start sees the team fail to deliver points.
Hearts did exactly what was required of them last season, lifting the Championship trophy to ensure their controversial exit from the Premiership lasted just one season. The Tynecastle club returns with greater ambition than just staying up.
Any notion that manager Robbie Neilson came out of promotion as a conquering hero should be set aside, though. Cup exits to Alloa and Brora last year brought anger from fans, and the team’s performances at times throughout the league season means he faces a job to win around the support.
Neilson hasn’t added extensively to his squad, yet, but the team that came up has plenty of top-level experience and doesn’t lack for leadership. The League Cup has provided a smooth warm-up, with four wins from four, but two games against Celtic and a match against Aberdeen before the end of August mean that Hearts fans will have a clearer idea of their side’s prospects sooner rather than later.
League Cup semi-finalists, Scottish Cup finalists and third in the Premiership last season. On paper it’s a successful season, but the Hibs faithful feel opportunities were missed.
This time around, Jack Ross has the unenviable task of delivering progress on what’s already a reasonably high bar. The manager started his recruitment early, landing Daniel MacKay from Inverness, made Jamie Murphy’s move from Rangers permanent and added Jake Doyle-Hayes from St Mirren.
There will be further additions, most likely, but Hibs’ hopes may also hinge on whether there are departures. Interest in Ryan Porteous and Kevin Nisbet was rebuffed last season and with a new chief executive in place, Hibs aim to build on what they have. That ambition could be tested, especially if progress in Europe means a juggling of priorities.
From the point David Martindale stepped into the manager’s job last season, it quickly became a memorable one for the Livi fans. A long, long unbeaten run helped the team to a top-six finish and the League Cup final.
Now, the work is on to match or better what surprised most of Scottish football last term. Ten new faces have arrived, including Andrew Shinnie and Bruce Anderson, but just as many have left the club. Martindale will have to hope the new signings click if they are to avoid taking a step backwards.
The fixture list has already given Livi a tough task in the early weeks, with matches against last season’s top four within the first six games.
For the club that finished third in the shortened 2019-20 season, last term was a depressing drop in standards for the Steelmen.
Now Graham Alexander has had a transfer window and a pre-season to put his mark on the squad. Declan Gallagher and Devante Cole are among the departures and leave huge shoes to fill, but Alexander has made nine signings, including the impressive Liam Kelly on a permanent deal. Dutch striker Kevin van Veen worked with the manager before, suggesting he’s far from a gamble.
The side came through the League Cup group stages with nine points, but narrow wins over Queen’s Park and Queen of the South, as well as a surprise 2-0 loss to Airdrie, indicate that Motherwell are far from flying.
After steering Rangers to their first title in ten years, Steven Gerrard is hungry for more success. And supporters want more, too. Unsurprisingly, they are odds-on favourites with the bookies to win the Premiership, but success in the cups will also be a target. By Gerrard’s own admission, one trophy out of nine under his watch is ”not good enough”.
The big and early test comes in Europe. They must successfully negotiate two qualifying rounds to reach the lucrative group stage of the Champions League, something the club last achieved a decade ago.
The signing of Fashion Sakala looks a tidy bit of business, as does the capture of John Lundstram. Departures? Alfredo Morelos’ future is again a hot topic. In a recent interview, the Rangers manager was unable to answer if the striker would be at the club this season. Glen Kamara may have caught the eye of potential suitors after impressing for Finland at the Euros.
With [just over] a month to go before the transfer window closes, speculation over players’ futures will no doubt continue.
While Rangers are odds-on to win the league, Ross County are the shortest price to finish bottom and it’s easy to see why. John Hughes steered the club to a narrow escape from the drop last year, but promptly left to seek new challenges, leaving the club to lick its wounds.
Enter Malky Mackay, a controversial choice given his past, but also a manager with extensive experience.
Mackay has brought in players, including Ross Callachan from Hamilton, and stated an intent to make an impression on the league, but County look the least well-equipped at this stage and face an uphill struggle. Late signings may make a difference, but a relegation battle looks inevitable.
What constitutes success for St Johnstone this season after the incredible heroics that saw them win both cups and finish fifth in the league?
Ever the pragmatist, Callum Davidson’s first aim will be to stay in the Premiership, but the team that played with such assurance last year should have no worries on that score and will make a top-six place a more realistic target. Beyond that, it may be down to how many of the core of that side are prised away before the window closes – and how they are replaced.
On-loan centre-back Hayden Muller looks capable of maintaining Saints’ defensive solidity, while left-back Reece Devine joined from Manchester United for the season and looks to be another shrewd addition
On paper, another solid season, with the capability for another cup run or two, looks in the offing, with the added excitement and demands of European football, where an intriguing tie against Galatasaray will result in either Europa League progress or a Conference League play-off place.
Davidson showed last season he could squeeze the maximum out of a small squad with discipline, attitude and belief, as well as no little talent. Pulling off a repeat with league expectations, defence of two trophies and continental competition would add to his rapidly growing reputation.
After falling short of their publicly stated top-six ambition by the finest of margins, Jim Goodwin and his side are setting out with exactly the same target this time around.
The buzz around St Mirren following the completion of the supporters’ buy-out adds another positive in Paisley and hopes will be high that the new era can start off with success.
So far, Saints have held on to the stars of last season, and made it clear that anyone coming for Jamie McGrath will be paying a good price, and paying early enough that a quality replacement can be found. It’s not just about the goal-scoring midfielder, though, a dependable defence remains together for now and the club’s young talents like Ethan Erhahon and Jay Henderson will only get better.
Goodwin has also added wisely, bringing in players with experience of the league. Greg Kiltie and Alan Power joined from relegated Kilmarnock, while Charles Dunne arrived from Motherwell and Curtis Main has bolstered the attack.
Last season showed real progress from a club that had been accustomed to a relegation battle and, even given the increased competition in the league, Goodwin and his players will be focused on taking that next step and a top-half finish.