Soccer

Odds and Ends: Kyogo Furuhashi should the head Bhoy as Celtic go in search of third successive cinch Premiership crown

Kyogo’s 27 goals propelled Celtic to the cinch Premiership title last season and it is hard to see him being topped in the scoring charts this year, or his club being bettered in the title race  Picture by PA
Kyogo’s 27 goals propelled Celtic to the cinch Premiership title last season and it is hard to see him being topped in the scoring charts this year, or his club being bettered in the title race Picture by PA

IT barely feels like the blink of an eye since the trophies were handed out at the end of last season and yet here we are on the cusp of another long soccer campaign.

Three such pieces of silverware ended up in the hands of Celtic captain Callum McGregor, and the Hoops will start the defence of their cinch Premiership title on Saturday when Ross County visit Parkhead.

It has been a summer of change in the east end of Glasgow, with Ange Postecoglou’s wizardry earning him a crack at the Premier League with Spurs, an opportunity the Australian found too good to miss.

In his stead comes Brendan Rodgers, who also found the lure of English football too big four years ago but once more heads north with a reputation in need of repair.

The appointment of the Carnlough man was met with some derision by the Celtic faithful given the manner of his departure for Leicester when the club were on the verge of a treble Treble, but in many ways it is a smart move given his familiarity with the demands in Glasgow.

Postecoglou’s departure could’ve led to major upheaval, but the changes have been kept to a minimum, and Celtic are well placed for a third successive title – and 12th in 13 seasons – ahead of the big kick-off.

Read More

Brendan Rodgers still looking to improve Celtic squad but rules out big feesOpens in new window ]

They have been installed as 8/13 favourites before a ball has been kicked, with old rivals Rangers a best-priced 6/5 with Sky Bet, and everyone else available at 150/1 and bigger.

Michael Beale brought about significant improvement after taking the Ibrox reins from Giovanni van Bronckhorst last November, and has been active in the summer, both in terms of clearing out big names and getting new faces into the club.

The likes of Allan McGregor, Scott Arfield, Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent have been key men in recent times, but all have left to be replaced by fresh faces with points to prove.

Beale has focused mainly on attacking recruits and will hope one or two of them hit the ground running, as any yardage lost early on can be very hard to peg back.

Danilo, Cyriel Dessers and Sam Lammers are hardly household names, and none were prolific goalscorers at their previous clubs, but they have been charged with closing the gap to Celtic, which was far bigger than the eventual seven-point winning margin last term.

The Hoops eased up having bagged the title with four games to spare, and with largely the same squad plus a handful of young guns added, they should get off to a fast start despite the change in the dugout.

Classy winger Jota found the lure of Saudi riches too strong, but Rodgers still has the powerful spine of the team so expertly moulded by Postecoglou, with Joe Hart, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Reo Hatate, McGregor and Kyogo Furuhashi the pillars around which the rest of the talent can thrive.

The Glasgow rivals meet at Ibrox on September 3, after which we might know more about how their seasons will pan out, but it is hard to see any other outcome than the Bhoys making it a hat-trick of titles, and to my mind the 8/13 is a decent enough price.

Of course, that won’t be to everyone’s liking, so alternative ways to turn a profit may be required.

To that end it might be as simple as backing Kyogo to top the scoring charts again after he plundered 27 goals last term.

The Japanese star has a new contract in his pocket, has far too much guile for most defences in Scotland, and improved vastly last year from an already impressive debut campaign.

With the Rangers new boys next in the betting, it is hard to see anyone getting the better of him and the 10/3 offered by Bet Victor is well worth a flutter.

Meanwhile, Aberdeen and Hearts are seen as best of the rest, with most firms having them level-pegging in the ‘without the big two’ market at around 15/8.

The Dons had a great second half to last season under Barry Robson, but the return of the crafty Liam Boyce to partner Lawrence Shankland in the Hearts attack might just give them the edge and they are the best bet to finish third.

I’m also expecting a decent season from Kilmarnock, who narrowly avoided the relegation play-off in their first year back at the top table, but could kick on under the wily Derek McInnes who has recruited an number of proven Premiership performers and seen his side play well in the League Cup groups.

Killie could sneak into the top six at 11/4 (William Hill), while new skipper Kyle Vassell might be worth a bet as an each-way runner in the top scorer market.

The former Northern Ireland striker scored eight times in 17 games after signing in January, and with 15 goals enough for place money in four of the last five seasons, a continuation of that form would see him go close to the frame at 66/1 with Bet Victor.

CINCH PREMIERSHIP SELECTIONS

Hearts, without Rangers and Celtic, 15/8 (Sky Bet)

Kilmarnock, top-six finish, 11/4 (William Hill)

Kyogo Furuhashi, top goalscorer, 10/3 (Bet Victor)

Kyle Vassell, top goalscorer, e/w, 66/1 (Bet Victor)