Beale, Celtic and VAR: Talking points as Scottish Premiership returns

New managers, title pushes, transfer windows and a congested European battle all feature as Scotland's top flight hibernation ends.

Beale, Celtic and VAR: Scottish Premiership talking points as top flight returns from World Cup break SNS Group

The Scottish Premiership returns to action after a four-week break on Thursday when Rangers host Hibernian at Ibrox.

Both teams will be looking to get back to winning ways after suffering a poor run of form before the top league stopped for a month to accommodate the World Cup.

League leaders Celtic travel north to take on third placed Aberdeen on Saturday afternoon before Hearts host Kilmarnock, Livingston play Dundee United, Motherwell take on St Johnstone and Ross County play St Johnstone.

We take a look at five of the big talking points ahead of Scottish football’s return.

New manager for Rangers

Beale: Former coach returns in top job. Alan Harvey via SNS Group

Michael Beale replaced Giovanni van Bronckhorst during the break and will need to hit the ground running on Thursday to avoid falling further behind Celtic at the top of the table.

When Rangers came calling again, the lure of Ibrox was too much to resist but the 42-year-old – who was Steven Gerrard’s assistant in the southside of Glasgow for three and a half years – will know the size of the task at hand as he looks to cut the gap at the top and bring cup success.

With a hectic festive fixture list ahead, the new manager will know there will be no settling in period as he looks to save the season that was beginning to slip away with a poor run of form before the World Cup kicked off.

After Hibs at home on Thursday, Beale will take his side to Pittodrie to take on Aberdeen four days later before playing Ross County and Motherwell each side of Christmas.

Celtic come to Ibrox early in the new year before January’s League Cup semi-finals so it will be vital for the new man get off to a good start if he wants to turn a so-far disappointing season around.

Celtic leading the way

Postecoglou: Will be hoping to continue pre-break form.SNS Group

Celtic’s domestic record before the break was almost flawless with only one defeat from 15 league games and a nine point lead over second-placed Rangers in the Premiership.

If they continue in that same kind of form then they will continue in their march towards two-in-a-row with further success in the Scottish and League Cups also on the agenda.

But it remains to be seen if the World Cup break will knock the champions off their stride and potentially derail their treble quest or if they will come back with a rejuvenated squad ready to take advantage of any new manager teething problems at Ibrox and extend their lead at the top.

The Hoops play in Aberdeen on Saturday before back-to-back home games against Livingston and St Johnstone.

A handful of players were playing in the latter stages in Qatar but Maeda, Mooy and Carter-Vickers should be available for the festive run in with only Josip Juranovic still missing as Croatia chase third-place.

New signings Yuki Kobayashi and Alistair Johnston will be unavailable until the new year.

January transfer window

Transfers: Juranovic linked with move away after World Cup exploits. SNS Group

Ange Postecoglou has moved early to snap up right back Johnston and defender Kobayashi but doubts remain over Juranovic who is reportedly attracting interest after a string of impressive performances at the World Cup.

The 27-year-old still has a few years on his Celtic contract so the Hoops could be expecting a big transfer fee for his services is he does move on.

Meanwhile on the other side of the city Beale might have to decide if he wants to stick or twist with Alfredo Morelos or Ryan Kent who are both out of contract in the summer.

December’s games could be vital for the pair who was part of the 2021 league winning side coached by Beale.

Battle for third and relegation fight

Just five points separate Aberdeen in third and Hibs in eighth. (Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Aberdeen are eight points behind Rangers in third with Livingston two points behind them on 25, then only one point separating Hearts, on 21 points, in fifth and Hibernian, on 20 points, in eighth and five points between the bottom four.

So most of the league will be wary that, while a good run could see them challenge for third or top six, a slow restart could easily see them slip into a potential relegation dogfight.

Dundee United are currently at the foot of the table and three points behind Kilmarnock and Ross County who are both on 15 points.

Motherwell are only two points ahead of a playoff and will be looking to hit the ground running to put a run of results together that will see them climb the table.

Injury time?

VAR: A permanent fixture in the top flight. SNS Group

It remains to be seen if Premiership referees will adopt the World Cup system of extended injury-time for games when VAR has been in use.

Several games over in Qatar have seen as many as 11 or 12 minutes added on at the end of the 90 minutes to make up for minutes lost during normal time.

The Scottish top-flight brought in VAR technology ahead of the break so could follow on from FIFA and advise extra minutes added on at the end of games when required.

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code