Scottish Premiership: Intrigue and uncertainty beckon as top tier resumes

Aziz Behich scores for Dundee United
If available, Dundee United’s Aziz Behich will swap the glamour of the World Cup in Qatar for the more humble environs of the Tony Macaroni Stadium on Saturday

Aziz Behich has had his fun, gallivanting about World Cup fields in Qatar, chasing after Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe one week and Julian Alvarez and his best chum Lionel Messi the next.

What a blissful parallel universe the Dundee United man has been living in this past while.

The day job beckons, Aziz old pal. For Olivier Giroud read Joel Nouble. If you’re available for selection you’re at Livingston on Saturday. In case you’ve forgotten, you’re bottom of the Scottish Premiership. Reality bites and all that.

We’re now entering the second half of the season and if the intention here was to make predictions about what’s about to happen, but on the basis that nobody really knows what zaniness is going to occur in Scottish football, it’s probably wiser to just ask questions.

The only certainty is controversy and recrimination. Everything else is the great unknown.

Is there any stopping Celtic?

After the final round of league fixtures of 2021 Rangers were sitting top of the table with a handsome six-point lead over Ange Postecoglou’s side. An advantage can get turned around. But will it happen again this time?

Nine points is a hell of a buffer. When people think of Celtic under Postecoglou it’s easy to alight on the flair of Kyogo Furuhashi, Liel Abada and Jota, the creativity of Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley and the all-round excellence of Callum McGregor.

But they don’t always sweep sides away playing cosmic football. There’s more to them than that and none of it augurs well for Rangers as they wait and hope for Celtic to drop points.

Celtic scored two goals in the last six minutes to beat Ross County 3-1. They scored a 90th-minute winner against St Johnstone. They scored two goals after the 90th minute to beat Dundee United 4-2. They scored an 84th-minute winner against Motherwell.

They have a bit of class, a lot of character and are not showing much sign of making it easy on Rangers to get back into this.

Can Beale put the heat on Celtic?

We now have a game to analyse, but it’s still impossible to know where Rangers are going under Beale. Too early, too many injuries, too much to see before we can draw any conclusions.

Thursday night saw a ropey defensive performance in the first half, but Rangers were forced to play a makeshift centre-back pairing. They looked vulnerable, but that was hardly a surprise. Once Rangers get their centre-halves back in the loop those doubts will persist.

Malik Tillman was one of the big takeaways. He has flattered to deceive in his time at Ibrox. When Rangers needed him, he produced.

Is Tillman the first real sign of Beale’s coaching making a difference? We don’t know what lies ahead for the manager and his team – and that’s why the whole scene is fascinating, so intriguingly uncertain.

Worrisome stats for Johnson

Will Lee Johnson last the season? Hibs are lying in eighth with one win and seven losses in their last eight league games. Their defeats pre-World Cup were against teams sitting in 10th and 11th.

They put a lot into Thursday night at Ibrox but it was another loss.

If this run carries on for much longer we all know what may well happen. Johnson is perilously close to the form that got Jack Ross sacked – one league win in nine.

Ross’ Premiership win return was 42%. Johnson has won 40% of games and has lost 50%. Maloney won 32% and lost 37%. Statistically, there’s only a whisker between the two managers who got fired and the one who remains.

Johnson has had awful luck with injuries but so did Ross and Maloney. If they entered that in mitigation in their defence then it was rejected.

Hibs owner Ron Gordon will be reluctant to burn his way through yet another manager in such a rapid period of time but he must be straining his eyes to see the progress under Johnson.

The man needs victories and you sense that he needs them quickly. He’ll be enthused by the first half at Ibrox and by the return of Kevin Nisbet, but Hibs have Livingston, Celtic and Hearts next.

Kilmarnock’s away daze

Can Kilmarnock find an away goal? On 1 October, Ash Taylor scored in a 4-1 defeat by Aberdeen at Pittodrie. It’s the only away goal the team has scored in the league this season.

One goal in eight games on the road is an astonishing record and one that Derek McInnes will be desperate to shift. Killie are 11th and are away to Hearts and Motherwell in their next two games.

McInnes would want some points from those fixtures, but a goal or two would at least show some signs of life away from home.

Can Dundee United win in daylight?

Bizarre, but they haven’t done it yet this season. They’ve won five games in all competitions and they’ve won all of them under the glare of floodlights.

St Johnstone and Ross County were 12th and 11th this time last year and both survived, so there’s hope. Dark horses to avoid the drop, you might say.

Chart toppers

Who finishes top scorer? Last season didn’t exactly produce a red-hot battle for the leading marksman prize. Regan Charles-Cook and Giorgos Giakoumakis were tied on 13 goals, which was the lowest total in an age.

This time around it looks more impressive. Antonio Colak and Bojan Miovski are level on 11 with Kyogo tucked in behind on 10 (he’d have run away with the title last time had he not missed so many games through injury) and Lawrence Shankland has nine. Colak and Kyogo have scored all of theirs from open play.

Given the creative players he has out wide, Kyogo must be the favourite to win the race. Celtic have 50 league goals in their first 15 matches. The century is very much within their grasp for the first time since Brendan Rodgers’ Invincible season.

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