THE new calendar year offers us a chance to assess and predict: What’s in store for Scottish football in 2018? I’ll give you my thoughts in this space anyway.

For starters, even though Celtic have recently lost heavily to Hearts and been held to a goalless draw by Rangers, I don’t see the balance of power coming close to shifting in the Scottish Premiership.

An eight-point gap currently stands between the six-in-a-row champions and their closest pursuers, Aberdeen. I will be surprised if Celtic’s lead at the end of the season is less than 15 points, whether ahead of the Dons or the team in third at the moment, Rangers.

There will be a few out there who think opposing sides have worked out how to put one over Celtic. It’s tempting to go along with that argument when you consider December displays by Anderlecht, Hearts and Rangers, with high pressing to some extent part of the story.

Celtic undoubtedly are less compelling and dynamic than they were at this time last year. There are weaknesses in defence that must be addressed. Mikael Lustig no longer looks like the reliable right back of old and Dedryck Boyata continues to show why he failed to make the grade in the top flight of English football. But are the Hoops still a long way ahead of the rest? I think so. And they have been quietly banking significant Champions League funds these past couple of years. Plus there will likely be transfer money coming in at some point in 2018 for the sale of Moussa Dembele – not to mention the sell-on cash for Virgil van Dijk following his £75million move from Southampton to Liverpool – hence ample scope for Celtic to retool.

It’s healthy to want competition in our league. Even Celtic fans will get bored if another few seasons go by with a no-contest feel to the proceedings. But these things don’t even themselves out just by the law of averages.

Having stated that I would love to see more competition for Celtic from all angles in 2018, I don’t think it’s a contradiction to say I hope the Scottish champions progress in Europe. Indeed, the two-legged Europa League tie with Zenit St Petersburg surely provides the kind of stiff but passable test Brendan Rodgers will welcome after a simply impossible Champions League assignment against two of the world’s best sides.

The same applies to all Scottish teams come the summer, although I’m not holding my breath in expecting much to be different. The problem remains that our expectations are too high given the budgets of Scottish clubs. We talk as though getting into the group stage of the Champions League or Europa League should be the norm. Maybe for Celtic, but not for anyone else in recent years. Budget-wise our teams are way behind those that make it to section play every September, so why do we think they are good enough?

Having said that, the failure by Rangers and St Johnstone in the first preliminary round of the Europa League was highly embarrassing. Getting to the third preliminary round should be the aim at a minimum. But sadly I don’t think our teams currently have the ability, Celtic apart, to go beyond that. I’m just being honest.

This year will be a pivotal one for the national team, too, and I hope it is one that sees a new trajectory under a new manager, whoever that happens to be. My wish would be for Scotland matters to overshadow club concerns. There is nothing more important than the health of the national team.

With the advent of the UEFA Nations League this year, there is now another pathway into the Euros. Friendlies, as we’ve knows them, will be a thing of the past. As a football country, we need to embrace the new rules and be ready. The fact is, it’s almost as easy to qualify for Euro 2020 as it is to miss out.

It’s also time for a new generation and a bolder approach. I felt Gordon Strachan latterly relied too much on a prototype player for his system, rather than picking players in form. The next manager must not be stubborn, instead being open to who’s flourishing while taking note of who’s not.

I do see a brighter future for Scotland with Kieran Tierney, Andy Robertson and Ryan Fraser – three players who must form the nucleus of the national side going forward.