With the Scottish Premiership paused for its annual winter break, we are examining the players who have stood out in a Scottish Premiership team of the season so far.
Between the sticks, Butland has been the standout goalkeeper in the Scottish Premiership, despite a disappointing Rangers start to the season that led to the eventual sacking of Michael Beale as manager. The former Stoke City shot-stopper has appeared a class above the rest of the league, including fellow countryman Joe Hart across the city.
Butland has kept 12 clean sheets, the most in the league, despite the Gers having played two games less than Celtic at the time of writing. Butland’s shot-stopping ability is particularly what standouts. When he has been called upon into action this season, he has pulled off spectacular saves that Allan McGregor simply wasn’t able to last season.
The second Rangers player to make the team is Gers captain James Tavernier who like Butland boasts 12 clean sheets but can also claim himself 10 goals and five assists from right-back. Tavernier’s free kick against Celtic is a prime example of what he has brought to Rangers this season, chipping in with goals just when it looked like his team were down and out. The Englishman is often criticised for his defending, but it is clear that without his goals and assists this season, Rangers would not be in the title race.
Connor Goldson joins his Rangers teammates with the English defender yet another consistent player for Phillipe Clement’s side. In his five and a half years in Glasgow, he has proved himself to be one of the best centre-backs in the country and this season has been no different. Many Rangers defenders have come and gone during his time at the club, but it is no coincidence that he has been a consistent starter for the Gers week in and week out.
With the recent successes of Lewis Ferguson, Aaron Hickey, Ryan Christie and Nathan Patterson, Scotland’s top-flight has solidified its reputation as a proving ground for promising talents.@Callum7McFadden on five SPFL players to keep an eye on in 2024.https://t.co/RMRtFho5wQ pic.twitter.com/6oMt3RYYiH
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) January 3, 2024
Just 12 months ago Liam Scales was on the end of the biggest upset in Scottish football history when Aberdeen were defeated by Darvel in the Scottish Cup. Since then he has looked a changed player, starting with his impressive end to last season at Pittodrie which saw Aberdeen finish third in the Scottish Premiership.
With a Celtic centre-back injury crisis at the beginning of the season, Scales was forced into the Hoops team with his rumoured move to Aberdeen permanently shelved. To say he has taken his chance since would be an understatement, starting every Scottish Premiership game since he was brought into the starting 11 in August against St Johnstone. Scales will almost certainly be offered a new deal at Celtic, with the futures of Gustaf Lagerbielke and Maik Nawrocki far from secure.
Capping off the back four is Owen Beck, who was recently recalled from his loan at Dundee. Beck returns to Liverpool amidst an injury crisis at left-back, with Jurgen Klopp recalling the Welshman after his stellar performances in Tayside. Beck picked up two goals and two assists from left-back in the first half of the season, sparking interest from both Celtic and Rangers over a permanent move. However, Liverpool are set to stand firm and reject any advances, recognising that Beck’s young career at 21 is already off to an incredible start.
Armstrong has proven himself in the last 18 months to be an incredible winger, who is just as capable of scoring goals as he is at setting up teammates. Boasting four goals and seven assists in 22 appearances, he has been Kilmarnock’s go-to man and with the Ayrshire side currently sat fourth in the table a large part of that can be attributed down to Armstrong.
With a goal against Rangers and an assist against Celtic, Armstrong has shown that he can be more than a match for each half of the Old Firm. He is likely to have a significant impact on the outcome of the Scottish Premiership title race, and the Old Firm side that can nullify Armstrong in the remaining fixtures is most likely to have an advantage in the title race.
A player who often flies under the radar but has proven himself to be one of the top creative midfielders in the country. Spittal has scored three goals and picked up five assists in a Motherwell side who only have two wins in the league since August. If Motherwell are able to avoid relegation in the second half of the season, the Scottish midfielder will likely play a big part in doing so, with his goals and assists vital in a closely contested bottom half of the league table.
The second Celtic star to make the team O’Riley has looked a much-improved player despite initially impressing after arriving in 2022. The Denmark international has carried an out-of-sorts Celtic team for much of the season, scoring 10 goals and providing seven assists in 21 appearances. Just like Tavernier, if not for O’Riley, Celtic would not be in the title race.
The freedom he has been given this season to make late runs into the box has led to an increased number of goals, at a time when talisman Kyogo Furuhashi has struggled to find the back of the net. O’Riley has been linked with a move away in recent months, but for the time being, he will stay in Glasgow, and Brendan Rodgers will be hopeful that he can continue his form from the first half of the season.
The third and final Celtic player to make the team of the season so far Palma has been the Hoops’ only definitively successful summer signing. Having joined the Scottish Premiership champions as a replacement for Jota, he had big boots to fill. Although at times this season he has frustrated, it is clear that when he is on his game, he is an unstoppable player.
With five goals and nine assists in 17 appearances, he has proven himself to be an incredible creative threat. A particular standout moment for him in the first half of the season was his wonder strike against Ross County in Dingwall. He will likely improve as a player at Celtic, and at only 23 years old he has a big future ahead of him.
Undoubtedly the top striker in Scotland this season so far, Shankland has gone up a gear when in all honesty it seemed impossible to do so. His worth to Hearts is simply priceless, with Rangers and Celtic rumoured to be interested, Hearts will likely demand a substantial transfer fee. With 13 goals and one assist, he is currently the top scorer in the league.
His goals against both Celtic and Hibernian away were crucial in massive victories that have helped propel Hearts to third place in the league table. Shankland’s recent strike against St Mirren was a magnificent display and will certainly be a contender for goal of the season.
It’s a close call between Miovski and Mika Biereth for the final place in the team, with Miovski just edging it, having scored against three of the league’s top four placed teams. In a struggling Aberdeen team, he has consistently found the back of the net this season, despite the Dons sitting in the bottom half of the league for much of the last six months.
With nine goals and an assist already, he has continued where he left off last season. Celtic are rumoured to be interested in a move, and Aberdeen will face the tough task of keeping Miovski at the club after an impressive 18 months at the Dons.
By: Michael Shearer / @MichaelcShearer
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Craig Williamson – SNS Group