Scottish Premiership: Familiarity & intrigue in season 2015-16

Celtic players celebrating with the Scottish Premirship trophy
Celtic are aiming for a fifth straight title success

Ahead of a new campaign, echoes from the one just past continue to be heard.

By what distance will Celtic leave the rest of the teams behind in the league? Can Aberdeen mount a sustained and convincing title challenge? And who amongst the rest will be discarded as also-rans?

Yet the fortunes of Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee United provide an interesting diversion. The Premiership plays out to familiar themes, but intrigue can still be found lurking in its midst.

Aberdeen seek to close gap

The expectation is of Celtic confirming, again, that no team can bridge the gap to their greater resources, and it is in Europe that the champions will be exposed to more gruelling challenges.

Under Derek McInnes, Aberdeen have become reliably strong, assertive and consistent.

Aberdeen players celebrating
Can Aberdeen get closer to Celtic this season?

The signing of Graeme Shinnie, the retention of Ryan Jack and Adam Rooney and the hope that Kenny McLean will recover his poise and decisiveness following his move to the club in January, all suggest the team could yet be more effective this campaign.

The players ought to be hardened to the mental challenges that come with their prominence.

Aberdeen had an excellent record against all the top-flight teams other than Celtic last season, but the squad should be better prepared for the expectation level that comes with being the team best equipped to at least pressurise the reigning champions.

Re-building at Tannadice

At Dundee United, the fascination is with the constant process of rejuvenation. Can a team shorn of its three best players - Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong and Nadir Ciftci, all of whom joined Celtic in 2015 - find the means to recover?

Dundee United midfielder Rodney Sneijder and manager Jackie McNamara
Rodney Sneijder is one of Jackie McNamara's summer signings at Dundee United

Jackie McNamara has to marshal diminishing funds and the brittle promise of youth.

Flaws need to be managed, too, since Rodney Sneijder joins the club from a period of effective exile in the Dutch second tier after initially breaking through at Ajax, and at 24 the midfielder needs to show he has the character and spirit to accompany decent technique and speed.

Hearts back with a bang?

The challenge for Hearts is to maintain their progress, having galloped so relentlessly to the Championship title last season that their rivals could only wilt in response.

The recruitment strategy has been agreed, since the new signings are all arguably better than those they have or will replace in the side, with only Gavin Reilly from Queen of the South being captured for his potential.

Hearts players celebrating
Hearts return to the Premiership after a year-long absence

Juwon Oshaniwa, in particularly, is a thoroughbred footballer and worth the drawn-out process of seeking a visa for the Nigerian left-back.

Battle at the bottom

More grimly, the wonder is which established sides will find themselves in a battle for survival? Finances remain tight across the division and many of the teams have had to struggle just to try to maintain their squads.

Even so, it is possible to assume improvements at most apart from Partick Thistle and Hamilton Academical.

The tendency is for teams at the top and at the bottom to be cut adrift from the rest as the season unfolds, and to that end this campaign is likely to have a familiar feel to it.

How the teams are shaping up

Aberdeen
Likely formation: 4-2-3-1
Typical team: Ward, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Considine, Jack, Shinnie, McGinn, McLean, Hayes, Rooney
Strengths: There is depth to the squad in central midfield and in defence, while Rooney and Goodwillie's competition up front spurs the two on
Weakness: The lack of comparable stand-ins to McGinn and Hayes on the wings
Celtic
Likely formation: 4-2-3-1
Typical team: Gordon, Lustig, Boyata, Van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown, Biton, Mackay-Steven, Johansen, Armstrong, Ciftci
Strengths: The attacking midfield options, since the likes of Commons and Forrest cannot be sure to start games
Weakness: The defensive qualities of Izaguirre, hence the summer pursuit of a new left-back
Dundee
Likely formation: 4-3-3
Typical team: Bain, Irvine, McPake, Etxabeguren, Holt, Ross, Thomson, Low, Stewart, Loy, Roberts
Strengths: Stewart, Loy, Hemmings, Roberts and Tankulic should provide goals and a cutting edge
Weakness: A period of adjustment is likely as new signings like Holt and Etxabeguren come to terms with the step up from the lower leagues
Dundee United
Likely formation: 4-2-3-1
Typical team: Szromnik, McGowan, Dillon, Morris, Dixon, Paton, Sneijder, Dow, Telfer, Muirhead, Bilate
Strengths: Potential and the promise of developing talents like Souttar, Spittal, Telfer and Coote
Weakness: Little strength in depth and a lack of experience in the squad
Hamilton
Likely formation: 4-4-2
Typical team: McGovern, Gordon, Canning, Garcia, Kurakins, Turner, MacKinnon, Crawford, Imrie, Nade, Chamorro
Strengths: Belief, since the majority of the players established themselves in the top flight last season
Weakness: Canning, as player-manager, has to juggle two roles
Hearts
Likely formation: 4-2-3-1
Typical team: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, Augustyn, Oshaniwa, Walker, Gomis, Pallardo, Nicholson, Juanma, Sow
Strengths: A rugged, consistent, physically assertive team has been improved by several good signings
Weakness: Key players like Sow, Augustyn and Juanma need to be kept fit throughout the campaign
Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Likely formation: 4-2-3-1
Typical team: Brill, Raven, Warren, Meekings, Tremarco, Tansey, Draper, Christie, Foran, Doran, Mbuyi-Mutombo
Strengths: The stability of the squad means the players are used to each other and performances tend to be reliable
Weakness: A consistent goalscorer needs to step up to replace Billy McKay and Marley Watkins
Kilmarnock
Likely formation: 4-4-2
Typical team: MacDonald, Hamill, Findlay, Connolly, Smith, Magennis, Higginbotham, McCulloch, Robinson, Carrick, Boyd
Strengths: A better mix of youthful energy and more experienced professionals should make Kilmarnock more robust
Weakness: If Boyd does not recover his scoring form, the team could be blunt in attack
Motherwell
Likely formation: 4-4-2
Typical team: Twardzik, Law, Laing, McManus, Hammell, Ainsworth, Lasley, Pearson, Johnson, McDonald, Clarkson
Strengths: Scott McDonald's spikiness and endeavour up front will provide a cutting edge and keep opponents wary
Weakness: Some key players are approaching the end of their careers
Partick Thistle
Likely formation: 4-4-1-1
Typical team: Cerny, Miller, Seaborne, Frans, Booth, Amoo, Welsh, Bannigan, Lawless, Stevenson, Doolan
Strengths: Cerny is a good signing as a goalkeeper with top-flight experience who will also marshal the defence
Weakness: Goals, since Thistle have struggled to score consistently
Ross County
Likely formation: 4-4-2
Typical team: Fox, Foster, Davies, Boyd, Holden, Gardyne, Irvine, Murdoch, Dingwall, Graham, De Vita
Strengths: The signing of Andrew Davies brings experience and defensive nous to Ross County
Weakness: The squad is light in numbers
St Johnstone
Likely formation: 4-4-2
Typical team: Mannus, Mackay, Anderson, Scobbie, Easton, Wotherspoon, Millar, Lappin, Craig, O'Halloran, MacLean
Strengths: Defensive, solid and sound base in midfield
Weakness: Again, it comes down to finding a regular, reliable source of goals

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