Celtic finally have some competition, and this time it may not be temporary

Since Rangers have been absent from the top flight of Scottish football the sole giant, Celtic, has been collecting titles without a real challenge.

Success has been expected. Their main focus has been the distraction of Champions League football. It’s not a tournament they expect to win but they live for the moments they get to rub shoulders with teams playing at a higher level. This singular aim has allowed the domestic front to change without them noticing.

Suddenly Aberdeen are providing a race.

Even with two consecutive defeats in all competitions, The Dons have methodically worked themselves into a top of the table position. Celtic put so much hope in the Champions League that when they miss out they seem to go flat. As if the Scottish league is a trudge they have to go through. An exam that requires no revision in order to get the pass mark. Making the grade domestically is never in doubt, playing above the usual level in Europe is the only challenge on offer.

The downside of failure in Europe is a lack of motivation and the acceptance their best players could be tempted elsewhere. A semi-rebuild is required on a permanent basis. Best players are sold and promising talent is loaned in. The dream of Champions League football the constant that drives this.

Most expected that only when Rangers returned and restored top flight players to a newly promoted side would the domestic race be back on. Aberdeen have changed all this. After nine games they sit four points clear of Celtic, both having lost one, The Hoops having drawn two.

Ronny Deila arrogantly claimed he deserved the sack if his Celtic side didn’t win the league. He may have been attempting kindness, alluding to the fact he has ten times the budget than his rivals. But it’s more likely an inbuilt belief the league is theirs before a ball is kicked.

This is different than an experienced manager, like Sir Alex Ferguson when at Manchester United, believing it should be their year. This is a mentality that the title in Scotland is a given.

Aberdeen can use this to their advantage. They can play free from pressure while soaking up the experience of being at the top. Last season was the first phase of this. They finished second, albeit 17 points behind the champions. It was an important building block. The players will start to believe they belong there and want more.

The telling feature will be how they bounce back from their loss to Inverness. If they resume the job of collecting points belief will grow. The longer this continues Celtic will start to doubt their entitlement to the trophy. The danger for The Dons is this emerging challenge may freshen The Bhoys and swing the doubt back onto them. Even without a threat, many believe it’s just a case of Celtic getting back to business and marching on to inevitable domestic success.

That’s what will define the destination of the Scottish Premiership: Belief. There’s no reason Aberdeen can’t continue to collect points, the deeper we get into the season as they do this, the more credible they become. They have to believe it can happen though. Unlike Celtic they have no experience of being in a long race. If Aberdeen adapt to these virgin pressures it could be Celtic that find themselves without a trophy at the end of the season.

Without the Premiership there’d be no Champions League for Celtic. Aberdeen are not only in a race for the title but a push to shake up all of Scottish football and send Celtic back to the drawing board.