Celtic FC begin the 2013/14 Scottish Premiership campaign as favourites to claim a third straight title and catapult manager Neil Lennon into the realm of a club great.
Lennon, a former player at Celtic Park, would join Willie Maley, Jock Stein and Gordon Strachan as just the fourth Celtic boss to deliver a hat-trick of successive championships. The new season also offers the Northern Irishman the tantalising prospect of leading the Glasgow side to only a third domestic treble, a feat he achieved as a player under mentor Martin O'Neill in 2001. First things first, however, and last term's surprise package Ross County FC are their visitors on Saturday.
"It would be brilliant to make it three titles in a row, but it's going to be tough, especially when we go away from home," said captain Scott Brown, now entering his seventh campaign with the club. "It's important for us to get off to a good start against a team that caused us problems last season. Hopefully we will have another good season."
Key to any success will be how Lennon's men juggle their domestic and European commitments. Last season's run to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League – which featured a historic victory against FC Barcelona – prompted a dip in home form which resulted in Celtic securing fewer points than any other champions in the history of the old Scottish Premier League. Progress to the UEFA Champions League group stage would, in theory, make for a more interesting title race.
Either way, the fight for second place is expected to be the most open for years. Despite losing top scorer Michael Higdon, Motherwell FC should again lead the chasing pack having brought forward James McFadden back to Fir Park. Saint Johnstone FC, meanwhile, finished third last term and will want to challenge for European qualification once more having already ousted Rosenborg BK in the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round. Aberdeen FC, under former Saints manager Derek McInnes, could also be in the mix.
New boys Partick Thistle FC will ensure Celtic still have a Glasgow derby to contend with, despite the ongoing absence of Rangers FC. With Heart of Midlothian FC starting with a 15-point deduction, Thistle will be hopeful of avoiding the drop. However, the new Premiership format, which includes the introduction of a play-off system, means two sides could be relegated. Though Celtic look to be in pole position, the rest of the division seem set to have plenty to play for.
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