Scottish Premiership Preview: Dons seek to run Celtic closer

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With the smart money on another romp to the title for Celtic, can Aberdeen make a better fist of challenging the dominant Glasgow outfit?

Having finished 17 points behind Scottish champions Celtic last term, Aberdeen must look to marry European ambitions with a strong title challenge this time around, starting with this weekend's trip to Dundee United.

Derek McInnes' side failed to take a point off Ronny Deila's men in last season's Scottish Premiership as the Glasgow giants' dominance continued.

No side other than Celtic of Rangers have been crowned champions of Scotland since Aberdeen's 1985 vintage and that looks unlikely to end this season despite McInnes' men strengthening.

With UEFA Europa League commitments to contend with, the Pittodrie outfit have brought in highly rated full-back Graeme Shinnie while keeping hold of Ryan Jack, Niall McGinn and Adam Rooney.

However, and whisper it quietly, Celtic fans may well be hoping for a return for Rangers to the top flight and a stronger level of competition, with an improved Dons squad still unlikely to overhaul Celtic.

Deila has brought in Belgian defender Dedryck Boyata from Manchester City to help cover the absence of Jason Denayer - who returns to the Etihad Stadium - amid ongoing speculation regarding Virgil van Dijk.

Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven will have bigger roles to play after being ineligible for Celtic's domestic cup competitions while Nadir Ciftci will add extra quality up front once he has served a six-match ban for biting Dundee's Jim McAlister last season.

While Rangers failed to seal a top-flight return - losing out to Motherwell in the play-off final - Hearts are back in the big time after a dominant Championship win.

Former skipper Danny Wilson may have left for Ibrox but striker Gavin Reilly joins from Queen of the South for his maiden Premiership campaign while Inverness Caledonian Thistle have also bolstered their attacking ranks following a famous season.

John Hughes' side finished third last term, winning the Scottish Cup and therefore enjoyed a brief foray into European competition, with former Atletico Madrid starlet Dani Lopez set to offer a pinch of Spanish flair.

Elsewhere, Kris Boyd returns for a third spell at Kilmarnock, John Sutton will be tasked with helping St Johnstone build on their fourth-place effort last term while Motherwell will hope for an altogether smoother campaign.

Having seen Stuart McCall resign in November - after back-to-back top three finishes - Ian Baraclough eventually guided Motherwell through the relegation play-offs to safety.