Champions Celtic stronger than ever, says Ronny Deila

Champions Celtic stronger than ever, says Ronny Deila

Ronny Deila has warned Celtic`s title rivals that the reigning champions are even better than last year as they begin their defence 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 I am looking forward to it."

The financial clout of the Parkhead club compared to their opponents means Celtic are the overwhelming favourites to extend their dominance of the top-flight 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 play-off round hanging firmly in the balance.Domestically, the Hoops finished 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 of 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 Premiership play-offs means 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 favourably 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 August 7.
Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated):


Celtic v Ross County (1145GMT), Hamilton v Partick, Inverness CT v Motherwell, Kilmarnock v Dundee

Dundee United v Aberdeen (1430GMT), Hearts v St Johnstone (1130GMT)