With the cinch Premiership having completed the first round of fixtures, Joel Sked delves into the first 11 games to analyse the 12 top-flight clubs and their key players …
Rangers – 1st
It’s been an interesting, albeit frustrating at times, start to the league campaign for the Scottish champions. Maintaining last season’s form as the team went unbeaten was always going to be a tough ask. However, a defeat early in the season to Dundee United wasn’t expected. After the 2-2 draw with Aberdeen on Wednesday night, Steven Gerrard said he needs to “fix” issues with their position play while noting some of his players required a “reset”. It’s testament to the team they are still top despite not yet clicking over 90 minutes. However, with Celtic starting to motor an improvement is required. They have been guilty of conceding early goals in going behind. That would be one area where they can better themselves in.
Star player: Joe Aribo – There has not been an individual who has really stood out consistently for Rangers but the Nigerian midfielder has started every league game and has been the team’s most progressive passer and chance creator.
Celtic – 2nd
October has been a great month for Celtic. Winning at Hibs made it four wins from four in the league with a home clash against Livingston up next. Having been all but written off following a defeat to Livingston and home draw with Dundee United, they are now just two points behind rivals Rangers. Even when results weren’t coming, a lot of the data suggested a turnaround was coming. And it has arrived. Ange Postecoglou’s side look more cohesive. Yes, they still leave gaps and opportunities for opponents but they do have more control and when they are on their game, as they were in the first half against Hibs, they are an absolute joy to watch.
Star player: Callum McGregor – Kyogo Furuhashi and Jota are incredibly exciting players who have had their moments, but it is the Celtic captain who is so important to the way the team play and to bring that balance and control.
Hearts – 3rd
The only unbeaten side in the league currently, but they have been hampered by too many draws – six to be precise – including against the bottom three. Robbie Neilson has recruited well and been keen on implementing the 3-4-3 system which has made the team much more formidable and harder to beat, certainly compared to the last time the club were in the top-flight. There is still an aspect of the team getting into their flow with the system and new players who arrived late in the transfer window, including Cammy Devlin, Ben Woodburn and Barrie McKay. Hearts have been guilty of not being clinical enough in the final third, especially the past two matches against Dundee and St Johnstone where, on the balance of the game, they should have walked away with six rather than two points.
Star player: A few candidates but Craig Gordon continues to excel between the posts, demonstrating how valuable a quality goalkeeper is.
Dundee United – 4th
The transformation from the opening game of the league season to now has been remarkable. United were rubbish in the loss to Aberdeen at the start of August. They. against all odds, followed it up with a 1-0 win over Rangers and they have not looked back under Tam Courts. Seen as a cheap option, the former head of tactical performance in the club’s youth academy has built on Micky Mellon’s solid foundations last season to make the Tannadice side a more enjoyable team to watch. He has made some cracking signings in Charlie Mulgrew, Scott McMann and Ilmari Niskanen and improved players already at the club, including Ian Harkes who perhaps personifies the progression under Courts. The team are very well organised, compact and when they press the ball they make it very, very difficult.
Star player: Charlie Mulgrew – Up there as one of the signings of the season. Brought composure, experience and quality to the backline, while a potent threat in the final third with his delivery.
Hibs – 5th
If Celtic have had a great October, for Hibs it has been the reverse. The team have lost four matches in a row for the first time since they were relegated in 2014. They started the season strongly but one thing after another has led to their regression. While they tied down key players on extended deals, their recruitment – or lack of – is catching up on them with a lack of squad depth. Of those signed, only Jake Doyle-Hayes and Jamie Murphy have made a positive on-field impact. Ross hasn’t been helped with injuries and suspension, especially to Christian Doidge, a talisman in attack who makes those around him better. They appear to be in somewhat of a rut, even if their recent run has been tricky.
Star player: Martin Boyle – One of a number of players who haven’t reached their top level of late but he’s a bona fide match winner. His seven league goals have come in separate games and been worth six points.
Motherwell – 6th
The Steelmen, like Hibs, started the season strongly before falling away a bit in recent weeks, picking up one point from 12. One thing Motherwell will give you is plenty of graft. If a team isn’t prepared to fight and battle for every ball they will be on the losing side and likely nursing a few bruised egos. Their attack is led by the excellent Tony Watt and has a nice balance with Kaiyne Woolery offering pace and verticality and the mercurial Kevin van Veen who is capable of the spectacular. In defence Graham Alexander has signed well, especially Finnish international Juhani Ojala. Their downfall is in midfield where they lack a bit of finesse and creativity, or someone who can dictate games from deep.
Star player: Tony Watt – The league’s joint-top scorer. Such a flexible striker who has now combined his excellent all-round play with goals.
St Mirren – 7th
The Buddies have been on the up of late. Coming from behind to draw with Motherwell on Wednesday night ensured it is just one defeat in their last eight league outings. There was a fear early on that St Mirren had regressed as an attacking outfit as they appeared too predictable and one-dimensional. However, the addition of Connor Ronan has been an excellent and transformational one. It allowed Jim Goodwin to go with two No 10s behind Eamonn Brophy, giving the team more creativity and a bit more versatility to their play. Injury to Jamie McGrath is a concern but Goodwin has built a good squad.
Star player: Joe Shaughnessy – Mr Consistency at the heart of defence. The type of defender every team in the Premiership requires. Top five for aerial duels, interceptions and shots blocked.
Aberdeen – 8th
The Dons have been intriguing if nothing else this season. It started well under Stephen Glass before they plummeted down the league with a combination of profligacy and poor defensive play. Then, in the space of a few days, they defeated Hibs and drew with Rangers. At times Aberdeen have looked naive in they way they have left large spaces for opposition to counter into, while against Motherwell they failed to match the intensity and competitiveness of the Steelmen. Glass, however, is trying to change the identity of the team in a new era so there was always going to be difficulties. He wants the team to be more possession-based but has shown his capacity in the way he has dealt with the last couple of weeks and the injuries which have come the team’s way.
Star player: Calvin Ramsay – A hugely exciting talent. He has so hugely important in the team’s build-up play and shown composure on the ball that should make team-mates envious. A massive future.
Livingston – 9th
It was a difficult start for Livi. David Martindale undertook a sizeable overhaul of the squad with 14 arrivals and even more exciting. Not only was it a case of bedding in new players, some of whom were new to Scottish football, but also tweaking the style somewhat. Now it is beginning to bear fruit with a three-game unbeaten run, while there was also the high of beating Celtic. A spine has formed, from Max Stryjek in goals to Bruce Anderson in attack with Abo Obileye, Scott Pittman and Jason Holt in between. Depth in key areas is a concern, namely the centre of defence and central striker but there is versatility out wide and good options in the middle of the park. It will be an interesting next block of games to see how Livi progress.
Star player: Jason Holt – The new talisman in the Livi midfield. Uses the ball so well and very intelligent but happy to do the dirtier side of the game.
St Johnstone – 10th
Callum Davidson hasn’t yet named the same XI twice in the 11 league games, while he has used eight different centre-backs from the start. That demonstrates the nature of the flux at McDiarmid Park these last few months. Key players have departed, been injured or suspended and even lost form. All managers have to deal with such situations but it seems to have all come at the one time for Davidson. As such it is no surprise there has been a degree of inconsistency in the club’s results. Davidson has quality throughout the squad, just getting a settled backline with Liam Gordon in the middle and building from there will see the team rise up the table.
Star player: Zander Clark – The goalkeeper finished last season strongly and has continued that form into this campaign, coming up with big saves at key moments. He has made some excellent saves and, according to Wyscout’s prevented goal metric, only Craig Gordon has been better.
Dundee – 11th
It seemed like James McPake’s men had settled into the league with a win over Aberdeen and draw at Hearts, aided by the returning Charlie Adam. Then Wednesday arrived and a 5-0 thumping at home to bottom-of-the-table Ross County. To say home fans weren’t pleased would be an understatement, aiming chants at the manager for a first-half substitution which they disagreed with. On paper this Dundee team should not be struggling at the bottom. They have a decent centre-back pairing, a balanced midfield – when everybody is fit – and a range of strikers who can score goals. There is a starting XI there which could easily push for the top six.
Star player: Lee Ashcroft – It is perhaps unusual to pick out a centre-back from a team who have, on average, conceded over two goals a game but there has been a lack of consistency throughout the team. Ashcroft, individually, has been decent.
Ross County – 12th
Defeat at Dundee on Wednesday night would have had the majority of fans accepting the fact relegation was on the cards, especially after losing the previous two games 3-2 at home due to some grenade-malfunctioning defending, namely Jack Baldwin ducking under a long ball to allow St Mirren to score. County have been quite easy on the eye and competed well against the likes of Hearts and Aberdeen to earn draws. However, at both ends of the park they have been found lacking. Then things finally clicked and they smashed Dundee. It is a result which could and should have a transformative effect. They do, however, need to cut out calamitous defending. In attack, they don’t have a reliable goal-scorer, which makes a contribution from midfield important.
Star player: Captain Blair Spittal has had some excellent performances and chipped in with goals. But Harry Clarke has been very, very good in recent weeks. The Staggies’ best centre-back and right-back. He has got a mean cross and is a danger in the opposition box.