The countdown to the SPFL Premiership season is well and truly underway, and everyone in the game will be relieved to get back to work in a competitive manner.
It’s been far too long.
Aberdeen against Rangers is the curtain-raiser on Saturday and, outwith an Old Firm game, it’s the tastiest fixture in the calendar.
Sky Sports chose well to kick off their exclusive partnership with this one.
Even though there won’t be any punters inside Pittodrie, the stadium will still have an atmosphere of sorts, and no quarter will be given by any player or member of the management teams.
Steven Gerrard and his squad will be under the microscope. It might only be game No. 1, but they will need to send out the right message.
They will need to get the three points.
In terms of the head-to-head fixtures against Celtic, there is no doubt Rangers closed the gap last season, and can more than handle the challenge.
They’ve defeated Neil Lennon’s men at Parkhead, and were very unfortunate to lose the Betfred Cup Final after a world-class performance from Fraser Forster.
So Steven knows the four Glasgow derbies are not an area for concern in terms of commitment and desire from his players.
It’s in the other fixtures that the problems occur. That’s what he needs to rectify.
If Rangers continue to drop points to Aberdeen, Hamilton Accies, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock, they will not stop 10-in-a-row.
They need to be more diligent, and be aware that every fixture has the same importance and number of points up for grabs as when they play Celtic.
Their ability to prove they can do that starts on Saturday lunchtime in the Granite City.
This is a proper marker, hugely important and a most-difficult task for the visitors.
Derek McInnes and his men have been a thorn in the side of Rangers in a number of fixtures. They will fancy their chances, I’m sure.
For many years, Celtic emerged victorious with the Premier League title because they have had the knowledge and determination to squeeze something out of games that they might not have performed overly well in.
That is a brilliant skill and quality to have. Scott Brown and his team-mates deserve enormous credit for that.
The skipper will be as determined as ever to clinch another championship. He has been inspirational for the club, and he will not be wanting to let it go this season.
Like most managers, Neil Lennon will want to bring in another couple of players as quickly as possible to strengthen his squad.
But the market is not an easy one to operate in at the moment, given all the uncertainty surrounding football.
With the departure of Craig Gordon to Hearts and Forster returning to Southampton, there is a real need to bring in a goalkeeper.
Neil has said that himself, as there is only Scott Bain on the books with any experience.
Only Neil will know how pressing the situation is, and in an ideal world he would probably have liked Forster to be back at the club, whether that was on loan or on a permanent basis.
He is one of the best keepers to have played for Celtic, and his value to the team over a period of time has been invaluable.
If getting him back is off the table due to the financial constraints, then the recruitment department and the manager will be working overtime to find someone else, and all options will be under consideration.
The role of a goalkeeper is as important as any other position in the team, and every manager wants the best possible person between the sticks.
Celtic start their campaign 24 hours after Rangers, with a home game against Hamilton Accies to overcome.
They, too, will want to win and set a tempo and marker for the rest of the season.
Of course, what will also be interesting is to see how every team copes with there being no fans inside the stadiums.
It could be a bit of a leveller as the so-called smaller teams might relax a wee bit more, and won’t have the roaring crowds to compete with.
Celtic and Rangers might feel they are a wee bit weaker without the backing of their punters. We just don’t know yet.
Whatever happens, I am expecting a cracking title race. I think it will be very, very close.
It could very well go to the last game of the campaign, and I expect it to be tight after the split.
Celtic remain the team to catch as they have set fantastic standards over the past number of years.
They are going into a season in which they can make history. What an incentive that is.
Rangers need to at least match, if not better, that high level. Can they do it?
As for who will be crowned champions in May?
Well, during lockdown I bought myself a new garden fence, and I’ve got used to sitting on it. It’s extremely comfortable!
It’s a neutral colour at the moment, but at a some stage I will need to coat it green or blue.
Maybe I’ll keep the paint brush in the shed for a few more weeks. Some might want me to keep it there until May! We will see.
Enjoy the season. It’s going to be a cracker. That’s one thing I’m absolutely certain of.
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