Throughout the hysteria of Steven Gerrard's arrival, and two managers leaving before the fixtures are…
A number of Scottish football clubs have enjoyed superbly, constructive transfer windows this summer. Rangers have strengthened across the board, Celtic broke their transfer budget and Hibs managed to tie down exciting goalscorer, Florian Kamberi. Even Hearts have wasted no time signing at least nine new players. Yet at Pittodrie things haven’t really got going.
While much of the news circulating around the club this summer has been based around construction work beginning on the new training ground and stadium, Derek McInnes and his backroom staff have remained rather muted on the transfer front. There just isn’t a whole lot of Aberdonian movement in the transfer window.
That could be spun as a good thing. While a few clubs have been sniffing around Scott McKenna and Graeme Shinnie, both seem committed to a club that seemingly have little intention of selling then. However, with Ryan Christie, Anthony O’Connor and Kenny McLean all departing this summer it would seem as though new faces were a true necessity before the club’s Europa League tie with Burnley next week.
McInnes has made some signings, but aside from a back-up left winger in Chris Forrester and young midfielder Lewis Ferguson from Hamilton, the only new face that Aberdeen fans will most likely see playing each week will be Stephen Gleeson. Which, in turn, may offer an insight in to the way Aberdeen will be set to play next season.
Gleeson, who arrived on a free transfer from Ipswich this summer, is expected by many to slot in to the midfield where McLean once played. However, unlike the former Aberdeen midfielder, Gleeson isn’t nearly as attacking as the Scottish international he’s expected to replace. In 17 games last season the Irish midfielder didn’t notch up a single goal or assist.
However, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Last season Aberdeen’s defensive record in the Scottish Premiership was second only to Celtic’s, but their goalscoring fell notably short of the Scottish champions, Rangers and Hibernian. And rather than fork out a fortune to score more goals, McInnes may be looking to strengthen his team’s main qualities.
And why not? Aside from Celtic, every team in last season’s Premiership was reliant on how good their defensive line was. Teams like Hearts and Kilmarnock relied entirely on it, while Hibs used a quietly impressive back three as a solid foundation for attacking football. Even Rangers, with far superior resources and front line that outscored every other team in the league, failed to finish above Aberdeen because their leaky defensive held them back each and every week.
Scottish football fans like attacking football and the Premiership is famous for its quick pace and gung-ho approach at times, but there’s no denying that solid, defensive tactics tend to win games more often than not.
Going in to the new season, the stand-out qualities in this Aberdeen squad undoubtedly lie in defence. Not only do they have one of the most exciting, young players in Scottish football in the towering McKenna, but they also have another young, defensive talent in Michael Devlin. Fans may have forgot all about the former Hamilton talent but it’s worth noting that before the central defender picked up a horrid knee injury that kept him out for the entire 2017/18 season, he was averaging more interceptions than any other player in the Premiership and stood fifteenth in the division for aerial duels per game in the previous league campaign.
If Devlin can get back on track this season then McInnes has a superb, young defensive partnership to build upon. Sure, Andrew Considine is still the first-choice left back, but elsewhere in defence McInnes also has the experienced Shay Logan at right back and Joe Lewis in goals to offer even more stability. And it makes perfect sense if the Aberdeen coach is looking to accentuate these positives.
As previously mentioned, Gleeson will now most likely sit in front of this back four alongside the typically combative, passionate, box-to-box tendencies of Shinnie. And where an often clumsy, slow and all-round limited O’Connor would often undermine the Don’s captain in the middle of the park, Shinnie may now have another central midfielder of equal quality that could help him – and his team – put more of a dent in to the side of Celtic or Rangers’ game plans when they arrive at Pittodrie.
Any proposed plan to go more defensive this season may also be born out of necessity. While Aberdeen were far from spectacular going forward last season, this season’s team look even more hopeless up front. McInnes continues to avoid Adam Rooney whenever he can – with recent speculation linking the player with a move away this summer – which leaves him with a misfiring Stevie May and two youngsters in Scott Wright and Sam Cosgrove to pick from. And while the Aberdeen manager may have Gary Mackay-Steven and Niall McGinn on either wing, he’ll surely miss a huge amount of midfield intent from McLean and Christie’s departures.
There’s still plenty of time left in this transfer window to sign more players but as we take stock of Aberdeen’s squad at this moment in time – three weeks before the new league season and one week before their first European game – it seems as though McInnes’ side will be even more defensive than the one we saw last season.