No sooner has the football season ended, it seems, than the next one has started, and we’ve almost had a team knocked out of Europe already.
The league season proper starts in a few weeks, but the European qualifiers are underway, with Motherwell having wobbled their way through their Europa League first round.
I’m not hugely optimistic about this season – Motherwell are a case in point, being a team in transition, being short of players and short of cash. The story is the same throughout much of the league, and outside the top four or five I think it will be an all-encompassing relegation dogfight, which should at least be competitive and go down to the wire.
At the top there’s a bit of light, in that Hearts seem to have had one of their more settled pre-seasons in years, and their eccentric but thankfully intelligent manager has got a few semi-decent players in (when getting any player in at all is something of a bonus, outside the Old Firm). The Old Firm themselves are not immune to financial problems, however, and the fact that Rangers are open to offers on pretty much all their players suggests that the gap between second and third might not be as great as in the past.
Aberdeen, too, with an excellent new manager in Mark MacGhee, should prove to be good runners, as should Dundee United. They’ll probably take points off each other and Hearts, though, and as usual drop unnecessary points to lesser teams, such that it will be sadly the same old story at the top of the league, albeit as I say with Hearts coming a wee tad closer to second than last season.
My pessimism extends to Europe, too – although Hearts and Aberdeen really should make it to the Europa League group stage, and the Old Firm to that of the Champions’ League, that’s about as far as we can expect anyone to go this season.
The SPL is of course bereft of Inverness Caley Thistle, which is bad news for the city’s economy and status, although on the footballing side they are now in the same division as the mighty Ross County for the first time in a few years. With the prospect of the Highland derby back, I may even be tempted to venture to a County match or two this season.
Who else has a prediction or two?