Football Expert & Columnist
Andy Walker: Celtic may be champions-elect but there is plenty of competition behind them
Andy Walker looks to this weekend's live double-header and what he is expecting in 2014.
Last Updated: 05/01/14 11:19am
In the first of a live double-header on Sky Sports this weekend, my old club entertain Inverness Caley Thistle at Fir Park before we see if Celtic can maintain their unbeaten run when they make the short trip to Paisley to play St Mirren.
Quite rightly, Aberdeen and Dundee United have grabbed a lot of headlines for the improvement both have made this season but Motherwell remain paupers in comparison but continue to punch above their weight in a league that's very competitive outwith Celtic.
Stuart McCall had the opportunity of taking the Sheffield United job at the start of the season but has stayed in Lanarkshire to oversee a big change in personnel at Fir Park.
Not only did Motherwell lose the services of top scorer Michael Higdon for the challenges of this campaign but they also lost regular first team players Nicky Law, Chris Humphrey, Darren Randolph, Tom Hateley and Henrik Ojamma. And yet they still sit proudly in the top four with a terrific chance of emulating last season's achievement of finishing second.
In the current climate of more freedom of movement for players, rebuilding a side with modest resources is nothing new for a club like Motherwell but it's far from easy to keep winning as consistently as they have done this season. They completely demolished Partick Thistle at Firhill last weekend, scoring five goals away from home for a hugely impressive victory.
It was good to see James McFadden return to the starting line-up and he had a major influence on the game including getting on the scoresheet himself.
McFadden will be a major threat to an Inverness Caley Thistle side coming to terms with the fresh guidance of John Hughes.
Hughes took over from Terry Butcher when the Highland club were sitting in second place and considering the very modest resources they have at their disposal; it will surely prove to be very demanding to maintain that level of success. What he will have though is a magnificent chance of winning a major domestic cup final this season.
They face struggling Hearts in the semi-final of the League Cup and if successful will face the winners of Aberdeen v St Johnstone at Hampden in a few months' time.
On Sunday, Celtic go against St Mirren who will have to do without the services of captain Jim Goodwin after he was retrospectively banned for two games for an elbow offence in the comprehensive 4-1 win over Dundee Utd.
Everyone recognises that Celtic will win the title comfortably once again but the question for the Celtic fans at this stage is, can their team go unbeaten for the whole season?
Neil Lennon's men have the ability to win against anyone when their focus is completely on what is in front of them but to ask the players to retain their attention & attitude when there's no real challenge and no European football to lift their spirits will be very difficult. I reckon they will slip up once or twice before the season is out.
St Mirren, having scored four against Dundee Utd have plenty of energy in their side. I've been impressed by the full backs Naismith and Kelly this season and with McGinn a driving force in midfield to supply the service that the likes of Steven Thomson need, Danny Lennon's men are capable of an upset.
My outlook for 2014 is that Aberdeen will beat Inverness Caley Thistle in the League Cup final; Celtic will once again secure a double by retaining both the title and Scottish Cup.
The uncertainty at Rangers is still a huge story. They will undoubtedly return to the top flight soon enough with promotion this season as well as the next but how on earth can they hope to compete with Celtic when new chief executive Graham Wallace will insist that vital cost cutting is made to the Ibrox playing squad?
By all accounts it's essential that Rangers stop haemorrhaging money on a monthly basis immediately. Selling that to a group of disgruntled fans used to the best will prove to be Ally McCoist's biggest challenge.