After an uncharacteristically poor start to the season, Celtic have reasserted themselves at the top of the Scottish Premiership. But their lead remains narrow. They have not yet stormed away into the distance and there is, for now, still some hope for the chasing pack.
It is unusually tight at the top. From Celtic in first to Aberdeen in sixth, the gap is just five points. And after this weekend’s fixtures it is likely to remain close. It remains to be seen how long this will last, but it has made for a refreshing change.
Three of those clubs with aspirations of challenging Celtic – Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen – will be expecting victories in their respective games this weekend. Any slip up, even at this relatively early stage of the campaign, could prove costly.
Our friends at Football Whispers take a look at the chances of success for Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen this weekend.
Back in the thick of it
For Rangers, under Steven Gerrard, things are shaping up nicely. They have, of late, been scoring goals at an astounding rate: the Light Blues have found the net 32 times in the league so far, a total that sees them sit comfortably as the division’s top scorers.
A significant portion of that tally came in their last outing, against Motherwell. Rangers were emphatic 7-1 winners in that game. At Ibrox, they are imperious.
Rangers’ home record will concern Livingston, who make the trip to Glasgow on Saturday. The visitors have enjoyed a promising start to the season and are only five points behind Rangers in seventh.
But they have not always convinced on the road. While they’ll know that they’re capable of frustrating Rangers, their last away trip saw them lose 1-0 to Hamilton Academical who are 10th in the league.
Rangers’ attacking firepower should be enough for them to secure victory and remain within touching distance of their city rivals. They will not want to waste the opportunity presented to them by Celtic’s lax start.
Heart of the action
Hearts, meanwhile, will expect to get back on track when they travel to St. Mirren on Saturday. Craig Levein’s side started the season excellently and established a lead at the top, but they have been pegged back in recent weeks. A 5-0 defeat at Celtic earlier this month was a significant blow, and that was followed by a 1-0 defeat at home to Kilmarnock.
All is not lost, though. Hearts remain level on points with Celtic – although they have played a game more – and have an opportunity to return to form this weekend. St. Mirren, meanwhile, have won just once in the league this season – back in early August against bottom of the table Dundee – and are enduring a dismal run of form.
Hearts, then, will be strong favourites. Anything less than a win will be considered disastrous, particularly given recent results. Their strong home record, and St. Mirren’s abysmal away record, should fill them with confidence.
Things clicking for the Dons
Aberdeen, who are in action against Motherwell, will be equally hopeful of another win this weekend. After a slow start to the season, Derek McInnes’ side are enjoying something of a resurgence.
They will be looking for a third successive league victory on Saturday when they travel to Motherwell. Aberdeen’s 2-1 win at fourth-placed Kilmarnock in their last outing was impressive and suggested they will soon climb up the table.
The Dons are currently in sixth on 21 points, but the gap to Celtic at the top is slim. They will be strong favourites against Motherwell, who are fresh off the back of a humiliating 7-1 defeat at Rangers and have struggled at home this season.
If, as expected, Aberdeen come away from Fir Park with a win, they might begin to look upwards rather than downwards. They have a game in hand on St. Johnstone, Kilmarnock and Hearts, all of whom currently sit higher in the table.
Aberdeen’s focus on the Europa League perhaps proved a distraction in the early stages of the season. Now, they can concentrate on the league. It would not be a surprise to see McInnes’ side continue their ascent in the coming weeks. A win at Motherwell, though, is crucial.
*odds subject to change
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