The last occasion Celtic finished outside of the top two in the Scottish Premier League was in 1995. The last occasion they didn’t win the title was 2011, the same year that Dimitar Berbatov fired Manchester United to its English equivalent and Jessie J was singing about price tags. If the points difference between first and second from those eight consecutive titles are added together they come to a staggering 135 points.
It is a degree of dominance unparalleled in European club football and, with the Hoops further strengthening an already formidable squad with the £7m purchase of Toulouse defender Christopher Jullien, the temptation is to believe that the monopoly isn’t going to be brought down anytime soon.
That, however, would be discounting the incremental progression made by Rangers in recent years and more specifically the advancements made under Steven Gerrard. Since their return to the top flight in 2016 – following their liquidation and reformation – the Gers have finished third, third and second, the latter courtesy of a fine debut managerial season for Gerrard that – for a spell at least – appeared to threaten Celtic’s imperious supremacy.
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It was a season that solidified the impression that Rangers are back from their imposed wilderness and getting ever-closer to resuming their historic tit-for-tat rivalry for silverware with their arch-rivals across the city. And it all began when the Liverpool legend was furnished with funds to over-haul a squad that still contained plenty of players from their lower-league sojourn.
Last summer saw a substantial ten new players arrive at Ibrox, while this time round the club have hardly slowed down in their recruitment of talent. Swedish centre-back Felip Helander has arrived from Bologna to the tune of £3.5m and with fellow defender George Edmundson joining from Oldham it is evident that Rangers are concentrating on beefing up their back-line. The securement of veteran midfielder Steven Davis after an encouraging loan spell meanwhile is a shrewd no-brainer.
Should Rangers keep pace with Celtic throughout the autumn there is no reason to disbelieve that for the first time in aeons the Bhoys might have some serious and sustained competition in the campaign.
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Beyond Glasgow a club that rightfully is abuzz at present are Hibernian with Paul Heckingbottom – Celtic boss Neil Lennon’s successor at Easter Road – making an instant impact on taking the job towards the tail-end of last term. With a full pre-season and benefiting from the expected goal-threat of new signing Christian Doidge, Hibs won’t just be a side easy on the eye but one with a real substance under Heckingbottom and unquestionably they are one to watch.
As too are Aberdeen – so often the bridesmaids particularly during Rangers’ absence. This summer the Dons have been working on changing up their tactics, all the better to capitalise on the pace within the side and don’t be shocked if they grab some momentum and run with it. Regrettably the suspicion is that such momentum won’t last the full course – not having lost their captain and best player Graeme Shinnie to Derby on a free – but they will be up there nonetheless.
All four of the aforementioned clubs kicked off their SPFL with victories and set the tone for what could be a markedly tighter race to clinch top spot than what we have grown accustomed to witnessing in years gone by.
Will Celtic ultimately win their ninth title on the bounce? Probably, but not definitely; for the first time in a long time the title race does not exude the feeling of a foregone conclusion.
For the neutrals who just want some excitement and unpredictable twists and turns at the top of the SPFL, this season might just offer something that recent seasons have been devoid of.