Aberdeen vs RangersScottish Premiership, KO: 12:30 Aug 1, 2020, Pittodrie
AFTER a summer full of off-field recrimination and rancour, it's fitting that the new Scottish Premiership campaign begins with one of the most combustible fixtures on the calendar.
There's no love lost – and plenty of bad blood – in the Aberdeen-Rangers rivalry and even behind closed doors it promises to be a full-throttle start in the first football to be played in Scotland in five months.
It's a tough start for Rangers, who can ill afford any early slip-ups in their bid to prevent Celtic winning an unprecedented 10th successive title.
And the build-up to the big kick-off for Steven Gerrard's side has been disrupted by speculation swirling over the future of star striker Alfredo Morelos, who is linked with a move to Lille.
Rangers' biggest bit of transfer business this summer was making talented Romanian forward Ianis Hagi's loan deal permanent after his impressive impact the last term.
Former England striker Jermain Defoe has also signed a permanent deal after spending 18 months on loan from Bournemouth, but the other new arrivals – defenders Calvin Bassey and Leon Balogun plus goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin – look squad players rather than the kind of quality who could tilt the title race in Rangers' favour.
Aberdeen, meanwhile, go into battle without last season's 23-goal top scorer Sam Cosgrove after the striker was sidelined for four months by a knee injury.
After recently accepting a bid of over £2m from Guingamp for the big English frontman, the Dons may well be wishing he hadn't turned down the move.
But despite the financial pressures caused by the coronavirus crisis – Aberdeen players have taken a pay cut amid a funding gap of £10m – the Pittodrie squad is strengthened by the return of Irish winger Jonny Hayes on a free after three years at Celtic.
How do the bookies view it?
Despite a poor recent record at Pittodrie – one win and four draws in their last five visits – Rangers are clear favourites, a win at a not very generous 4-9 with Unibet.
Rangers have been imperious in pre-season, winning all four matches – including 2-0 victories against Ligue 1 sides Lyon and Nice – without conceding a goal.
But it would be dangerous to read too much into the phoney war of friendly results and, even accounting for the absence of fans, the Ibrox side seldom gets it easy in the northeast as their recent record attests.
I'd be more inclined to back the Dons to dodge defeat at the inviting price of 15-8 with Skybet than risk Rangers at the poor odds on offer.
Even without Cosgrove, Aberdeen – whose pre-season outings were a 2-2 draw at Kilmarnock and 3-1 win over Hibs – should at least cause the visiting defence problems.
Both teams have scored in the last six Pittodrie meetings and same again is worth taking at 19-20 with bet365.
These encounters are never short of niggle and Aberdeen will look to impose themselves physically against their more talented opponents.
The Dons have had three or more bookings in all but one of the last nine head-to-heads and over 2.5 cards for Derek McInnes' side is again worth getting on at 6-5 with bet365.
This Scottish Premiership match between Aberdeen and Rangers will be played on Aug 1, 2020 and kick off at 12:30. Check below for our tipsters best Aberdeen vs Rangers prediction.