Celtic vs Aberdeen
Hearts vs St Johnstone
Kilmarnock vs Dundee
Ross County vs Motherwell
St Mirren vs Inverness CT
Dundee United vs Hibernian
GLASGOW - The Scottish Premier League is facing up to its greatest ever challenge as they aim to show there is life without Rangers when the new season kicks off on Saturday.
Scotland’s most successful club have had an amazing fall from grace after their fellow SPL clubs voted 10 to 1 against allowing Rangers newco’s application to join the league after the old club couldn’t be saved from liquidation.
With the Ibrox club now languishing in the third division it will be at least three years until the Glasgow giants are back in the SPL and the rest of the top division clubs are preparing to tighten their belts in the absence of their fans and the revenue they bring.
Squads have been slashed across the league after many commentators predicted financial Armageddon for some clubs following fears that a TV deal might disappear as a result of Rangers dropping out of the SPL.
The SPL had agreed a TV deal worth £80 million ($124m) over five years with Sky and fellow broadcaster ESPN before the old Rangers slipped towards liquidation.
However, Sky Sports have confirmed they will continue with coverage of Scottish football for at least another five years with reports that the deal is only worth 10 per cent less than the old one.
Some fans now harbour hope that for the first time in 27 years Scotland’s top league could be won by a club outside the Old Firm but the usual two horse race for the SPL should now be won at a canter by Celtic.
For the first time since 1890 there will be no Old Firm league fixtures this season but Celtic have consistently insisted they do not need their Glasgow rivals to flourish.
However, the Parkhead club’s manager Neil Lennon expects some sort of impact and his side has let 10 fringe players such as Glenn Loovens, Daniel Majstorovic and Cha Du Ri leave the club, while keeper Fraser Forster is his only permanent signing.
“Financially and commercially it will bite us a bit but the club has its own financial structure and strategy in place and we’ll move ahead regardless,” he said.
“We always try and maintain a level ground on the spending going out and the money that we bring in. That hasn’t changed and that was the plan going into the season anyway.”
Rangers absence felt across town
However, Lennon, whose side open up their title defence against Aberdeen at Parkhead on Saturday, admits he will miss the Old Firm derbies and the challenge throughout the season.
“There’s that competitiveness, that rivalry, you are obviously going to miss the games,” he said. “It’s a great selling point for Scottish football but they are not here and there’s nothing I can do about that.
“What I will say is we need our supporters to back the team now more than ever, to come and support us and invest in the club because we are going to be hit financially by the loss of Rangers in the SPL.”
While the Old Firm fixture may be missing there will be a highland derby between Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County after the Dingwall side won promotion from Division One, while there will also be a Dundee derby for the first time in seven years after Dundee were late replacements for Rangers in the SPL.