Throughout the hysteria of Steven Gerrard's arrival, and two managers leaving before the fixtures are…
This article is really, quite poorly timed. Tomorrow night Aberdeen will face Burnley and one of two things will happen: the Pittodrie club will either win and be projected to new heights under Derek McInnes or they’ll lose and return to humming and hawing over the battle for second place in the Scottish Premiership. Either way, we can’t really do much to address that today.
Yet, when we look at Aberdeen’s footing in Scottish football this summer it’s impossible not to be drawn in to what ought to be another outstanding battle for supremacy on and off the pitch between McInnes’ side and two or three foes that will be looking to pip the club to the honour of being the best of the rest below Celtic.
Can Aberdeen finish second for a fifth, consecutive season? Let’s try and figure that out.
At face value, Aberdeen’s shortcomings last season were similar to what they always have been under McInnes: a genuine struggle against better opposition. Sure, the Dons won that final-day clash against Celtic when the Scottish champions already had one eye on their summer holidays, but besides that, they suffered three defeats in the other three games against the Scottish champions. Against Rangers, Aberdeen drew one and lost three and when tasked with getting the better of Edinburgh’s Hibs and Hearts, McInnes’ side only managed to win three from eight games.
Aberdeen also had problems scoring goals last season which may prove even more troublesome this season. Kenny McLean and Adam Rooney were the top two goalscorers for a team that scored just 56 goals in 38 games. For context, that’s just seven more than what Steve Clarke’s uber-defensive Kilmarnock side achieved and only nine more than what Hamilton eventually racked up.
Although both of these issues are by no means discrete or hidden problems that McInnes chooses to ignore or avoid, they are discrepancies that may continue to dog what has been the second best team in Scottish football for the past few years.
Any pessimism that has clung to Aberdeen in preseason by concerned fans has undoubtedly revolved around the players that have left the club in the past six months. The aforementioned top goalscorer last season, McLean, has finally made his move to the English Championship, while the man right behind him in the goalscoring charts, Rooney, has finally moved on to Salford City. Partner that with Ryan Christie’s move back to Celtic and you very quickly realise that Aberdeen will be without three of their most potent attacking threats from last season.
Anthony O’Connor – McInnes’ trusty, backup midfielder or defender – has also moved on to Bradford City, but for the most part it will be the decemated front line that will concern Aberdeen fans unless new signings are made.
Despite the obvious holes left from recent departures, McInnes has opted to sure up his defensive line and midfield ahead of the new season. Stephen Gleeson has joined from Ipswich and should bolster a tepid midfield alongside Lewis Ferguson from Hamilton. Both have already shown in the first leg against Burnley that they can offer something and should partner quite well alongside Graeme Shinnie in the middle of the park.
In defence, McInnes has brought Dominic Ball back on loan from Rotherham to the collective eye roll of the Pittodrie support, alongside Tommie Hoban from Watford and Tomas Cerny from Partick Thistle. All three should bolster what is undoubtedly Aberdeen’s greatest strength, particularly the two central defenders if Scott McKenna does indeed end up leaving this summer.
If McInnes can bring in another competent forward – which he has said he’d like to do before Sunday’s clash with Rangers – then he might be able to pass off this summer’s dealings as a relative success, but as things stand Chris Forrester – a left winger from Peterborough – is the only notable addition to a troubled front line and if that doesn’t change then Aberdeen may truly struggle this season to score goals.
The Aberdeen boss has always been quick to point out Rangers’ financial superiority over his club as a means to temper expectations and this season may finally be when McInnes’ warnings come true. Under Steven Gerrard the Ibrox side look as though they’re building genuine momentum after spending a relative fortune compared to their rivals at Pittodrie.
As such, we’re likely to see a far more composed Rangers team this season and one that may finally look as though they can defend their own goalmouth. That should worry Aberdeen, who only just managed to get the better of a truly abject opponent last season.
Considering the finances spent in Govan and the players that have left Pittodrie this summer, second place looks like Rangers’ to lose at the moment and that may be exactly how McInnes would prefer to have it framed. Aberdeen aren’t favourites for second place, but challenging as the plucky underdogs may be exactly how this season plays out for them and their driven coach.