Cham­pi­ons Celtic stronger than ever, says Ronny Deila

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY ALIS­TAIR WAT­SON

Ronny Deila has warned Celtic’s ti­tle ri­vals that the reign­ing cham­pi­ons are even bet­ter than last year as they be­gin their de­fense of the Scot­tish Premier­ship crown.

The Hoops will un­furl the Cham­pi­onship flag for the fourth con­sec­u­tive sea­son when Ross County visit Park­head on the open­ing day of the new Scot­tish top- flight cam­paign on Satur­day.

And Nor­we­gian man­ager Deila, who led Celtic to a Premier­ship and League Cup dou­ble in his first sea­son in charge, is look­ing for­ward to see­ing an even more dom­i­nant cam­paign from the Glas­gow team this term.

“It is go­ing to be a nice day and hope­fully we can do the same as last year when we beat Dundee United 6- 1,” he said.

“It is go­ing to be tough but I think we are a bet­ter football team than we were at the same time last year — hope­fully that will give us more points.

“I learned a lot last year and I am still learn­ing. But it is the same chal­lenge that we had last year. We want to win games, en­ter­tain and win tro­phies.

“Now the sea­son starts and am look­ing for­ward to it.”

The fi­nan­cial clout of the Park­head club com­pared to their op­po­nents means Celtic are the

I over­whelm­ing fa­vorites to ex­tend their dom­i­nance of the topflight in the con­tin­ued ab­sence of Glas­gow ri­vals Rangers.

But this might not be enough to save him from crit­i­cism from the Celtic faith­ful, who ex­pect bet­ter things from their side in Europe af­ter their dis­mal exit from the Cham­pi­ons League in the qual­i­fy­ing rounds last year.

This week’s nar­row 1- 0 win over Azer­bai­jani out­fit Qarabag FK in the first leg of their third qual­i­fy­ing round tie has left their progress to the play­off round hang­ing firmly in the bal­ance.

Chal­lengers

Do­mes­ti­cally,

the Hoops

fin- ished the sea­son 17 points ahead of near­est ri­vals Aberdeen, but Deila ex­pects the Dons to run his side closer this sea­son.

“Aberdeen will be our main chal­lengers. They have kept their team from last sea­son and have added good play­ers too,” he said.

“They are go­ing to be stronger and have al­ready shown that in the Europa League.”

Good things are also ex­pected from the newly pro­moted Hearts, who ran away with the Cham­pi­onship ti­tle last sea­son, as they be­gin their top flight cam­paign at home to St. John­stone.

Rangers’ fail­ure to see off Mother­well in last sea­son’s Pre- mier­ship play­offs means that the Ibrox club face another year lan­guish­ing in the Cham­pi­onship.

How­ever, there is an air of op­ti­mism around Ibrox not seen since the club was forced to start life in Scot­land’s bot­tom tier fol­low­ing liq­ui­da­tion in 2012.

Mark War­bur­ton’s ap­point­ment by newly ap­pointed chair­man Dave King has been greeted fa­vor­ably by a Rangers sup­port that had be­come de­jected by er­ratic per­for­mances on the pitch and dis­tract­ing board­room bat­tles off it.

The Gers open their sec­ond tier cam­paign against rel­e­gated St. Mir­ren on Aug. 7.

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