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Scottish Premiership: Top-flight action resumes in Scotland

All eyes have been on the World Cup for the past three weeks, however, the end is nigh for Fifa's festival of football with the focus turning back to domestic matters.

Here we assess the state of play in Scotland's top division.

Rangers need to hit the ground running

Rangers are nine points adrift of bitter rivals Celtic after 15 matches and the Gers can ill-afford anymore slip-ups if they are to have any chance of reining in the runaway leaders.

Head coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst was given the boot just a week into the World Cup break and has been replaced by Michael Beale, who was Steven Gerrard's assistant during his successful spell at Ibrox.

Beale joins after a short spell as manager of QPR and made the perfect start with 3-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen in a recent friendly match.

Rangers kick off the return of the SPL with a home match against Hibernian on Thursday evening and they are 3/10 to secure a much-needed victory. Hibs are 17/2 to produce a shock and the draw is 19/4.

The Gers have lost just two games this season, only one more than Celtic, but that's all that matters in Scotland and Beale has his work cut out to narrow the gap.

Meanwhile, Celtic face a tricky trip to Aberdeen at lunchtime on Saturday in their first match after the resumption.

Temperatures have been as low as -14 in the Granite City this week, but the Scottish champions are a warm 2/5 to pick up from where they left off before the break by taking all three points.

Warm welcome for World Cup stars

Celtic right-back Josip Juranovic is still in Qatar with Croatia, but the Hoops should welcome back several of their globetrotting stars for Saturday's trip to Aberdeen, meaning they are close to full strength for the Pittodrie encounter.

Aaron Mooy, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Daizen Maeda all saw plenty of action in Qatar for Australia, the United States and Japan respectively and the trio can only boost Celtic's title charge in the second half of the season.

New Bhoys on the block

The Bhoys also have another international star in new signing Alistair Johnston to look forward to after the right-back agreed a five-year deal at Parkhead.

Johnston featured in three group matches for Canada at the World Cup and he made 39 appearances for Montreal in the MLS last season, where he scored four goals.

He will be joined by fellow defender Yuki Kobayashi who has signed from Vissel Kobe, also on a five-year term.

Kobayashi joins compatriots Kyogo Furuhashi, Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi and Maeda at the Scottish champions and, along with Johnston, will be available to play from January 1st.

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Best of the rest looks a hot heat

Hearts led home the chasing pack behind the Glasgow giants last season, but they are 7/4 second favourites in the Without Celtic & Rangers market.

The Jam Tarts finished third in 2021-22, but are currently fifth behind Aberdeen and Livingston. The Dons are 13/8 to finish the campaign as the best of the rest, with Livi 4/1 shots.

Hibs are 8/1 to be first home behind the Glasgow giants, with St Mirren next best at 16/1.

Tangerines' dream turning sour

At the other end of the Scottish Premiership, things don't look so rosy for Dundee United.

An impressive fourth place finish last season suggested the good times may be back at Tannadice, but it looks to have been a false dawn for the Tangerines, who are three points adrift of Ross County and Kilmarnock at the bottom of the table.

There is plenty of time for United to improve their situation and they are just five points off Motherwell, who sit in ninth.

United are 6/4 To Finish Bottom, with County next best at 7/4, while Killie are 9/4 to be propping up the rest at the end of the season.

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