Scottish Premiership: Does Scotland have a title race this season?

In four of the past 10 seasons, Scotland's top-flight winners have not been top of the league after eight games.

This year, Hearts sit proudly at the summit at that stage as the Premiership resumes this weekend after the international break. Will they still be there come April?

BBC Scotland assesses whether Scotland has a genuine title race this term, what history can tell us and what can be deduced about how the bottom half of the table might shape up.

The league's not (always) won in October

Table

Hearts hold a two-point lead after having their advantage cut with their first league defeat of the season away to Rangers.

Craig Levein's side have beaten reigning champions Celtic this term but the next few weeks will test them with the visit of Edinburgh rivals Hibernian and a trip to Celtic Park on the horizon.

The Tynecastle outfit had a five-point cushion at the end of September, but four points from nine has seen that whittled away to the point that they could be usurped if they lose to Aberdeen on Saturday.

For that to happen, either Hibernian, Celtic or Kilmarnock would need to win, with the former two meeting at Celtic Park and Kilmarnock at struggling St Mirren.

In the past seven seasons, Celtic have won the title despite only leading at this stage on four of those campaigns.

Indeed, in 2014-15, they were five points off the pace - albeit with a game in hand on leaders Dundee United.

This season, Celtic sit three points adrift, having travelled to Hearts and Kilmarnock - losing both - but have beaten Rangers and Aberdeen at home.

Rangers, in sixth, are yet to win away this season but two of those league fixtures have been against last season's top two - Celtic and Aberdeen. Their next away test is on Sunday at Hamilton Academical.

SeasonTop after 8Top after 38
*Celtic had a game in hand but were five points adrift
2017-18CelticCeltic
2016-17CelticCeltic
2015-16AberdeenCeltic
2014-15Dundee Utd*Celtic
2013-14CelticCeltic
2012-13CelticCeltic
2011-12RangersCeltic
2010-11RangersRangers
2009-10RangersRangers
2008-09CelticRangers

Beware the familiar autumn dip

A valid comparison for Hearts' impressive start is how Aberdeen opened three seasons ago.

The Pittodrie side won their first eight league games that campaign and boasted a points tally five points better off than that of Hearts now.

By the end of the season, though, Ronny Deila's Celtic would be 15 points above Derek McInnes's side, so how did the Dons' challenge fade?

Table

They lost game nine against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, having just been knocked out of the League Cup at the hands of Hibs, amid a run of five defeats in six in all competitions. It would be more than a month before they rediscovered their early season consistency.

An autumn slump also affected Hamilton. They were fifth after eight games but finished 10th, just above the relegation zone.

That could serve as a warning for Livingston, who have just been promoted via the play-offs and are fifth after eight matches.

Table

Kilmarnock offer hope to stragglers

The biggest change between game eight and the end of last term was the rise of Kilmarnock.

The Rugby Park club were bottom, level with Partick Thistle on three points, but beat Thistle 2-0 in their ninth game just before Steve Clarke took charge. Draws at Rangers and Celtic followed and their gradual rise up the table ended with a fifth-placed finish.

So, bottom side Dundee, who have just parted with manager Neil McCann and appointed Jim McIntyre, and St Mirren, who are one point better off, can take heart.

But Motherwell should be wary. They have fewer points after eight games than Ross County did at the same stage last season and it was County who were automatically relegated.

How will the top six finish?

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