IT’S an exciting new adventure for Ladbrokes as their sponsorship of the Scottish leagues kicks off but as far as the top flight goes it will be the same old story.
Celtic are streets ahead of everyone and Aberdeen are much better than the also-rans – so that’s your 1,2 sorted as easily as that.
I predicted that outcome and a year ago (the Dons were 5-4 without Celtic) and nothing’s changed in the last 12 months to alter my thinking.
Derek McInnes’s Dons side did well last season to keep the race alive for so long last season and while their squad looks slightly stronger I can’t see them getting much closer to a side on another level financial wise.
The signs at Pittodrie are promising and bookies know it – to win the league without Celtic the Dons are 8-11 at McBookie and the Scots firm say it’s their most popular antepost bet.
I can see why because the only side I can stopping Aberdeen is new boys Hearts who will be cheered by a full house every week and may have a chance if Aberdeen manage to reach the Europa League groups. It’s not as daft as it sounds as they have a 50-50 chance of knocking out Almaty next week after a 2-1 away defeat.
To win the league Aberdeen are 25-1 but that looks incredibly skinny. Last season the gap was 17 points with Ronny Deila’s men taking 12 out of 12 from their closest rivals and I’d be surprised if it was any fewer than 15 this time round.
On that note Aberdeen are 8-1 with Ladbrokes +20 points with Celtic off scratch – but you have to work out if anyone else off a bigger mark will beat the Pittodrie men. Hearts have +33 and Dundee United +35.
Deila has lost Jason Denayer and could still see Virgil van Dijk go but he has brought in scoring machine Dedryck Boyata to replace Denayer and Nadir Ciftci has been added to strengthen the strikeforce although the Turk will miss the first six games of the season for doing a Luis Suarez on Dundee’s Jim McAllister while with Dundee United last season.
In Premiership terms the team looks as strong as last year and Aberdeen’s only chance of keeping it close going into spring will be if Celtic reach the Champions League group stage and the Dons are knocked out of the Europa League.
It’s good to see Ladbrokes putting money into Scottish football and while there will be no title fight – Celtic are a best 1-20 with Scottish Cup sponsors William Hill – there should be enough excitement to keep interest alive.
The Europa League race, fight to make the top six, battle to avoid the play-offs and scramble to stay off the bottom.
Hearts are predicted to be third and while they look top-six certs they should be battling with Inverness and St Johnstone for third, fourth and fifth spots. That leaves one top-six place up for grabs and while bookies reckon it will go to Dundee United it’s possible city rivals Dundee could pip them.
United continue to be a selling club (mainly to Celtic) and could struggle to make the top half this season with fans running out of patience.
They’ve lost all six pre-season friendlies but against some decent opposition and boss Jackie McNamara, who could be a decent bet for the sack race at 6-1 with Ladbrokes, says he isn’t concerned. We’ll get an early indication about United’s form when they face Aberdeen in tomorrow’s live TV encounter.
Dundee just made the top half last campaign and could do even better in Paul Hartley’s second season in the top flight. Rory Loy and Kane Hemmings are decent additions and Greg Stewart showed his sharpness last term. Dee are 11-4 at BetVictor to finish top six again and 3-1.
Ross County finished the season as strongly as anyone and could get into the mix. They are 9-1 with William Hill.
The battle at the bottom promises to be just as exciting as last year with Hamilton favourites to finish last at 4-1 at Ladbrokes and others.
Kilmarnock, who just survived last season, are 9-2 at Paddy Power and much will depend on how many goals Kris Boyd manages in his latest spell at Rugby Park.
Motherwell survived by thrashing Rangers in the play-offs but have lost strikers Lee Erwin and John Sutton although Scott McDonald has re-signed. Well are 5-1 at bet365 to finish at the foot but should be much better in Ian Baraclough’s second season.
That leaves Partick Thistle whose small squad could be their downfall. The Jags will struggle to stay out of the bottom two unless they make some signings and are 5-1 at Ladbrokes and others to finish at the foot.
It’s a tough one to call to be fair and I’m not betting on bottom spot until I see how the teams start.
The lower leagues kick off next week and Rangers have been cut to a best 8-13 with the likes of Betfred and no bigger than 1-2 at bet365 and William Hill after their stunning 6-2 win at Hibs in the Challenge Cup at the weekend.
New boss Mark Warburton played down the result but there’s no doubt he’s put together a decent side and knows what he’s doing. It’s tough to back against Rangers and they’re trying to hurt closest rivals Hibs by signing star man Scott Allan.
I tipped Hibs without Rangers at 4-5 with William Hill a couple of weeks ago and stand by that although best price is now 8-11 at Paddy Power.
As it stands I see Rangers first, Hibs second, St Mirren third and Falkirk fourth with the rest nowhere. That includes QoS who made last season’s play-offs but have lost their best players with boss James Fowler turning to youth in a bid to rebuild.
Hibs are 13-5 at Stan James with Hibs 9-1 at bet365 and Falkirk 33-1 at Ladbrokes, McBookie and William Hill.
I’ll put up my lower-league anteposts picks in full next weekend but it’s difficult to back against Dunfermline for League One and Clyde for League Two.
Celtic, Rangers, Dunfermline, Clyde
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Rooney (Aberdeen) ew
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