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The Scottish Premiership season is fast approaching and numerous clubs have been getting back into the swing of things having started their league cup campaigns. These matches, often against lower league opposition, allow Premiership managers to see what parts of their side are working and which need some fine-tuning. Moreover, it’s also the first time the fans will be able to judge how the squad’s pre-season has gone and what they can perhaps expect from their club in the upcoming season.
Dundee are one of the Premiership sides in that category and if their league cup campaign has told us anything, it’s that they still need to strengthen their frontline. Sure they’ve picked up wins against Peterhead and Stirling, but it would be quite the shock if they hadn’t. On the contrary, when they came up against a good Dunfermline side they couldn’t cope. The Pars outplayed Neil McCann’s side and emerged deservingly as the 1-0 victors.
Not to be too downbeat, but there are other areas of the Dark Blues’ squad that need addressing; the full-back position is just one that springs to mind. However, for the time being we’re going to focus on strikers, given that the Dens Park side have endured a difficult time in front of goal over the past two seasons.
To say Dundee struggled to score goals last season would be an understatement. McCann’s side managed a measly 36 goals which was only beaten by low-scoring Partick Thistle (31). Let’s be clear, the manager has done well to keep the club in the Premiership given the growing competitiveness of the league. Similarly, he had to begin rebuilding a squad which had undergone a huge change in the summer of 2016/17 with numerous players arriving and departing the Dens Park club under Paul Hartley.
All that considered, McCann has still never properly addressed Dundee’s striker problem. Sure he’s brought in Jean Alassane Mendy, but there’s absolutely no guarantee he’s going to finish the season with a goal tally in the double digits. Sofien Moussa is an important player for Dundee, but he also doesn’t seem like a striker that can score you 15 to 20 goals a season. Simply put, we are now just over a week away until the league season starts and Dark Blues still look thin on the ground when it comes to forwards.
As previously mentioned, Dundee were the second lowest in overall goals scored during the 2017/18 Scottish Premiership season. What’s pretty startling however is their expected goals (xG) tally. Whereas other clubs might have slightly higher or lower xG compared to their actual goals, the difference between Dundee’s two metrics is quite staggering.
The Dens Park club scored 36 goals but had an xG of 53.24. The mathematicians out there will know that that’s a difference of 17.24 goals. When you stop and actually think about it, the difference 17 extra goals could make to a club’s season is huge; it could arguably completely change the outlook of their campaign. To give this some context, the club with the next highest difference is Rangers with 9.93. Moreover, fellow strugglers Hamilton (2.9) and Ross County (1.27) had very slight margins between their goal and xG tallies.
So what does this mean? It means that Dundee are creating, but more importantly squandering, quality chances that they should be scoring. It really cements the fact that they need a good finisher, a fox in the box who knows how to find the back of the net. If they were able to find someone it could be the difference between battling relegation or steering clear of the dogfight.
Dundee have a real talisman in Glen Kamara who can put his foot on the ball and control things from midfield. However, they do still miss some creativity in the final third and could do with investing in a winger. Elton N’Gwatala looks like a good signing and should certainly help in the creativity department. That said, they still need someone to find the back of the net. Moussa is a vital player for McCann’s side but he’s hardly prolific. Outwith that there’s Marcus Haber who has been left out in the cold, Craig Wighton and youngster Matthew Henvey. In essence, there’s not enough.
Another glaring issue is that the Dens Park side never really replaced Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart who both left in the summer of 2016/17. Losing one would have been a problem, but losing both was pretty catastrophic. Furthermore, you can’t go from having your top two scorers in 2015/16 scoring 30 league goals and that dropping to 14 the following season. What’s even more concerning is that last season that dropped again with Moussa and AJ Leitch-Smith finishing as the club’s top scorers, with just 13 goals between them.
Dundee scored 53 goals in the 2015/16 season which almost identically matched their xG tally of 53.21. Following the departures of Hemmings and Stewart they scored 38 goals and had the lowest xG in the league (39.21) during the 2016/17 campaign. So McCann is due some credit as last season he had them creating chances that resulted in a higher xG tally. However, that means nothing unless he finds someone that can finish these quality chances off.
The difference is telling. Last season Dundee finished six points off the relegation places. This was a slight improvement on the season before where they were only two points above the playoff spot. Conversely, when they still had Hemmings and Stewart in 2015/16 they finished 12 points off the demotion spots. Hardly a surprise, but it just emphasises how much of an impact having a clinical striker, that can take those chances, could make to McCann’s side’s fortunes this season.