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Kick-off: Your team-by-team guide to the new SPFL Premiership season

The action starts on Saturday as the new top-flight season begins.

SPFL Premiership: Your team-by-team guide to the new Scottish football season SNS Group

Livingston face Rangers on Saturday lunchtime as the new Premiership season begins and fans of all 12 clubs are eagerly anticipating the new campaign.

The pre-season friendlies are over, the early cup games have been played and now the most important part of the season starts in earnest.

This season will be a little different from previous years, with the Qatar World Cup forcing a pre-Christmas break in the action, but the prizes and pitfalls are the same, with a well-contested title race expected, and competition for European places, top six and a relegation fight on the card for some.

The managers have done their early transfer business, the players have put in their training and targets have been set. We’ve had a look at what might be in store for each of the top-flight teams.

Aberdeen

Bojan Miovski has signed to bolster the Aberdeen attack. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

This time last year, Stephen Glass was looking forward to his first full season in charge, having used the summer to put his own stamp on the squad.

Now it’s Jim Goodwin who finds himself in a similar position, having moved to Pittodrie in February, but now having his first opportunity to reshape the squad.

Calvin Ramsay and Lewis Ferguson are the most notable absences from a team that underperformed hugely last season, but Goodwin has been backed in the transfer market, bringing in some intriguing signings. New faces have arrived right through the team from goal through defence, midfield and attack and a lot could depend on how Anthony Stewart, Ylber Ramadani and Bojan Miovski settle in.

As far as targets go, it’s clear there can be nothing like a repeat of last season and the bottom-half finish, but a serious tilt at being ‘best of the rest’ might need everything to click together quickly after the summer rebuild.

A Premier Sports Cup group stage that brought four wins from four games, 12 goals scored and none conceded will bring optimism that Goodwin is on the right track, but the opening day trip to Parkhead will be a stern test for the new-look Aberdeen.

Celtic

Celtic have a settled squad as they begin their title defence.  (Photo by Ewan Bootman/SNS Group)SNS Group

There were plenty of sceptics even among the Celtic faithful when Ange Postecoglou arrived to pick up the pieces of the failed ‘ten-in-a-row’ bid, but after a season of ‘Angeball’ there’s now expectation that the Parkhead side will go from strength to strength after wrestling the title from Rangers.

Over the summer, moves were made to secure Cameron Carter-Vickers and Jota on permanent deals after impressive loan spells, while Alexandro Bernabei looks an exciting prospect at left-back. Aaron Mooy and Moritz Jenz have arrived to strengthen Postecoglou’s options and the manager says he’s not finished in the transfer market yet.

A summer without European qualifiers has allowed a less pressurised build-up to the new season, but that’ll all change with a contest with Rangers in domestic competition looking like it’ll be fierce, and the prospect of taking on Europe’s elite in the Champions League to look forward to.

Defending the Premiership title is priority one for Postecoglou, and after a debut season where he transformed the team and delivered football that thrilled the fans, the second act is guaranteed to be worth watching.

Dundee United

United go into the new season with a new manager in place. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)SNS Group

New United manager Jack Ross finds himself in the slightly unusual position of taking over a team that left last season in a pretty good place.

A fourth-placed finish was higher than many expected, and with it came the prospect of a crack at Europe this time around. A repeat, or improvement, on that achievement looks tough with increased competition from other teams.

Ross has made additions to help with the challenges ahead. Craig Sibbald has come in, while former Scotland striker Steven Fletcher’s arrival brings a wealth of experience and likely a reliable supply of goals if he can find his best form and forge a partnership with Tony Watt.

The stand-out business of the summer was signing Dylan Levitt from Manchester United after his successful loan spell last season.

Plenty felt that Ross was hard done by when sacked by Hibs and if he can build on Tam Courts’ work last season then there could be a lot to look forward to. 

Hearts

Lawrence Shankland (right) will look to score the goals that fire Hearts to success. (Photo by Roddy Scott / SNS Group)

Last season’s third-place finish guaranteed a rare thing for Hearts. Group-stage football in Europe tends to be the domain of Rangers and Celtic, but Robbie Neilson’s side will have a crack at qualifying for the Europa League, knowing that a bare minimum of six games in the Conference League would be a consolation if they fall short.

That run of prestige games, and the money that comes with them, are a marker of the raised bar for Hearts this season. Not only will they be competing on two fronts, but anything other than a repeat of last season’s league position will be seen as relative failure.

With that in mind, Neilson has been working to strengthen his hand over the summer. Young talent Lewis Neilson has made the move from Dundee United, but it’s Alan Forrest, Kyle Rowles and Jorge Grant who are more likely to be making an impression on the first team in the immediate future.

The manager has also been reunited with striker Lawrence Shankland after they paired up to great effect at Tannadice. There are high hopes that Shankland can add an extra cutting edge to the front line after Ellis Simms returned to Everton, but hopes of another successful season may rest on how the defence looks after John Souttar made a summer switch to Rangers.

The European adventure already guarantees a memorable season for Hearts, but a strong showing in the Premiership is what’s more important to the long-term progress at Tynecastle.

Hibs

Lee Johnson has been tasked with turning Hibernian around. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)SNS Group

Hibernian start the season with a third manager in eight months in the dugout and question marks remain over whether this will be a season of progress or further turmoil.

Lee Johnson has come in with the aim of removing inconsistency and delivering a team that can challenge at the top end of the league and eye silverware in the cups, but after just a handful of games, one of those possibilities has been cut with an early exit from the League Cup.

Once again, there’s been a big turnover in the playing squad. While the recruitment of former Scotland keeper David Marshall and former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady offers as solid guarantees as the transfer market offers, the signing of players from clubs as diverse as Leeds, St Gallen, Benfica, Rainbow FC, Dinamo Zagreb and MacArthur offers a sense of mystery.

Defeat to Falkirk, and a penalty loss to Morton, not to mention the mistake in playing Rocky Bushiri when the defender was suspended, won’t do much to allay the concerns of Hibs fans that the club is still has a way to go in reaching the standards needed to challenge.

Kilmarnock

Winger Jordan Jones hopes to recapture the form that saw him impress in his previous spell at Rugby Park. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)SNS Group

Arbroath’s Championship title challenge captured the hearts of neutrals last season, but for Kilmarnock it was a case of mission accomplished as they pulled ahead in a tight title race and nailed a return to the top flight.

Initial bumps led to the appointment of Derek McInnes and bringing in the former Aberdeen boss was surely made with an eye on life in the Premiership beyond the initial promotion task.

With almost a dozen players leaving Rugby Park, McInnes has been transforming his squad, and speaking to STV early in the summer he was reluctant to set targets or make predictions until he saw how recruitment went.

Alan Power and Jordan Jones already know the territory as they return to the club, while Kerr McInroy and Lewis Mayo offer promise coming in from Celtic and Rangers respectively. Zack Hemming and Gary Woods have also joined, alongside Liam Donnelly and Joe Wright.

More faces are likely to arrive before the deadline, but the key figure will be McInnes as he looks to get a side to gel quickly to avoid the relegation battle.

Livingston

Livingston's season is off to a solid start with Premier Sports Cup qualification achieved. (Photo by Euan Cherry / SNS Group)

A Jekyll and Hyde campaign last time out saw Livingston struggle for points in the first half of the season, only to reverse their form at the turn of the year and regularly post the sort of results that have become their trademark in recent years.

David Martindale’s side narrowly missed out on the top six, but finished strongly enough to secure seventh place. It was a relative disappointment after making the top half in the previous two seasons and it’s likely that mark will be the target once again.

Alan Forrest and Craig Sibbald are the notable departures over the summer but Martindale has brought in players he believes can aid the cause, with former St Mirren and Hearts forward Esmael Goncalves one of a handful of summer signings. The club has also taken the relatively rare step to pay a transfer fee to bring in goalkeeper Shamal George from Colchester United, a sign they believe they may have unearthed a gem.

Martindale said his side were a little bit “undercooked” as they went into their League Cup group games, but, after winning three of their four games to progress while other Premiership sides were knocked out, it looks like they could be in decent enough shape.

Wins against opposition with much more resource are no longer even considered shocks, but consistency will be the aim after last season’s rocky start. Facing Rangers on opening day isn’t ideal in that regard, but the next three games against Dundee United, Hibs and Motherwell will give an indication of whether Livi can punch above their weight again.

Motherwell

Motherwell's league finish earned them a place in Europe. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Graham Alexander seemed irked at a perceived lack of credit when his side claimed a top six spot at the end of April, but his Motherwell side didn’t have a smooth campaign overall and in other seasons they might not have enjoyed the same reward.

European football was earned, and the Steelmen finished fifth in the Premiership. Alexander was right to say the table doesn’t lie, but with the competition between the sides who finished from third through tenth looking particularly fierce this year, he’ll now his side need to sharpen up at both ends of the park if they are to repeat the feat.

An overreliance on Kevin van Veen in attack may need to be addressed sooner rather than later and with only Blair Spittal, Paul McGinn and Josh Morris having arrived so far, transfer business might dictate how the team fares in the early part of the season.

There could barely have been a worse start, with the team suffering a bruising 1-0 home defeat to Sligo Rovers in the Europa Conference League qualifier and positive results will be needed early on in the league campaign to avoid alarm bells ringing and confidence draining.

Motherwell start the league with a trip to face former Well boss Stephen Robinson’s St Mirren before welcoming St Johnstone to Fir Park. Alexander’s side finished comfortably above both last season and will be looking to post early notice that they have strong claims to do the same again.

Rangers

Antonio Colak is among the new recruits at Ibrox. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Europa League finalists and Scottish Cup winners. Not a bad return for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side after the Dutchman replaced replaced Steven Gerrard midway through last season. The major disappointment, though, was letting slip the league title the team had fought so hard to win the previous year.

Van Bronckhorst now faces challenges on a number of fronts, with Premiership success a priority and Champions League qualification a tough but realisable aim.

The core of the side that impressed last season remains, with the decision by Connor Goldson to sign a new contract a major boost. Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo have both moved on at massive profit, while Leon Balogun also left and loanees returned to their club.

In their place come a number of new players that will provide options in defence, midfield and attack. Centre-back John Souttar had already agreed a pre-contract move from Hearts and can take a place in the back line, while Ben Davies has joined from Liverpool looking to re-establish his reputation after being left on the sidelines at Anfield. Turkish international Ridvan Yilmaz will compete with Borna Barisic at left-back.

Malik Tillman has come in from Bayern Munich with a burgeoning reputation as a dangerous attacking midfielder, while Tom Lawrence and Rabbi Matondo have arrived to provide creativity and goals on the wing. Antonio Colak boosts the firepower at centre-forward and looks to have settled in quickly.

It’s clear that Van Bronckhorst has now put his mark on the squad and will work to build on the progress he made last season. Champions League qualification would be a huge financial and reputational boost on the back of last season’s European adventure, but it will be the domestic game where the Dutchman’s success is ultimately judged.

Celtic have been working to build on their title win and have done their own strengthening before the battle of the Glasgow giants resumes. It looks like a contest that could go all the way and Rangers look ready to fight to become Premiership champions again.

Ross County

Ross County will need a replacement for SPFL top scorer Regan Charles Cook. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

It took until October 28 for Ross County to register their first league win last season, with the squad that Malky Mackay had assembled over the summer looking well short of what would be needed to stay in the division.

Fast forward to the end of May and County were bottom… of the top six. A team that had taken time to settle had transformed into one of the league’s more capable sides and with Joseph Hungbo and Regan Charles-Cook particularly impressive, Mackay could look back on a successful season and his unheralded signings coming good when it mattered.

The County manager is going to have to work some magic in the market again if his side are to build on last season. SPFL top scorer Charles-Cook has gone, and Hungbo is one of another ten players to leave the first-team squad as loans ended and contracts expired.

There’s been plenty of activity to bring in replacements. The club have high hopes for midfielder Yan Dhanda, who arrives from Swansea, and box-to-box player Victor Loturi was highly regarded in Canada.

A handful of others have joined that pair in making the move and the League Cup group games were negotiated with little difficulty.

With another big turnover of players it’s difficult to gauge County’s chances this season but if this year’s batch of recruits are the level of last season’s and bed in quickly, the Dingwall side could surprise some people.

St Johnstone

St Johnstone struggled in the Premier Sports Cup. (Photo by Euan Cherry / SNS Group)

The cup double seems a long time ago for St Johnstone. A historic season was followed by a dismal campaign last time out, with a disjointed side limping through the league and ending up in the play-off, scrapping for survival.

A 6-2 play-off final win over Inverness was emphatic enough, but it looks like Saints will have a hard job once again in stating their Premiership credentials.

Transfer business has been extensive as a host of players left at the end of the season. In come an experienced bunch, with Graham Carey, Jamie Murphy, Andy Considine and Ryan McGowan all having plenty of top-flight experience.

Remi Matthews has joined on loan from Crystal Palace to solve the goalkeeping problem after Zander Clark’s departure, and Adam Montgomery comes in from Celtic to compete for regular first-team football.

There’s enough there to suggest a clean slate for manager Callum Davidson to work from, but the early results have done little to lift the gloom. Exit from the Premier Sports Cup served up a reminder that the team still leaks goals too easily and can’t be relied on for a cutting edge up front.

Though it provided real joy a couple of years ago, Davidson won’t worry too much over the cup results if the league campaign gets off to a good start. Struggle with early games against Hibs, Motherwell, Rangers and Aberdeen, and it could be a long season once again for the Perth side.

St Mirren

Stephen Robinson is beginning his first full season in Paisley. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)

After flirting with reaching the top six for the last couple of seasons, St Mirren have a clear marker for what would be progress this time around.

Manager Stephen Robinson came in midway through the last campaign to replace Jim Goodwin and has now had a summer to shape the squad to his likes and put more of his own ideas in place.

Robinson has gone for the tried and tested, with the former Motherwell boss adding to the contingent of previous Fir Park players on the books in Paisley by recruiting Mark O’Hara, Declan Gallagher and Trevor Carson. Add in Jonah Ayunga, who played for Robinson at Morecambe, and it’s clear the manager has a clear idea of what he wants and who will fit in easily.

Of the truly new faces in Paisley, Ryan Strain comes in from Maccabi Haifa and Keanu Baccus from Western Sydney Wanderers, with both tipped to impress in the Premiership.

The additions were needed, with a good number leaving Saints at the end of last season. Taking Jak Alnwick, Conor McCarthy, Alan Power, Alex Gogic, Connor Ronan and Jordan Jones out of the first-team squad leaves some big shoes to fill.

The Premier Sports Cup didn’t bring too much cause for optimism, with defeats to Arbroath and Airdrie, but Robinson bemoaned the fact that forward options Curtis Main and Eamonn Brophy are still sidelined. The manager hasn’t been an instant hit at the SMiSA Stadium, but with his own players now in place and a pre-season behind him, kicking off the new season against his former side on Sunday will be the start of an interesting campaign.

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