In the season of 2016/17, Aberdeen were the bridesmaids to Celtic as they finished second in the League and finished runners up in both domestic cups. It was a season that promised so much but saw the team fall short when it came to winningthe big prizes.
The summer saw a mini overhaul of the squad as key first team players including Ryan Jack, Ash Taylor, Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn moved on. It was the first time that McInnes saw players move on that he wanted to keep. 2017/18 was viewed by some as a transitional season for Aberdeen. It looked like they’d be looking for a new manager too as Sunderland pursued Derek McInnes as their new boss as they looked to get promoted back to the English Premier League. McInnes decided to remain with the club and look to build a legacy and add to his League Cup trophy of 2014.
It was important to recruit players of a similar or better calibre than those that had leftif they wanted to compete for domestic success and to progress in Europe to the group stages. As part of the Hayes transfer to Celtic, Ryan Christie was allowed tocome back on loan. There were further loan signings which looked to be good additions such as Greg Stewart who had a proven record in the league with Dundee, prior to his move to Birmingham. Dominic Ball joined on loan from Rotherham to add cover to defensive and midfield positions. There were permanent signings with Kari Arnason returning to the club after five years away. He had gone on to play in the European Championship with Iceland as they shocked England and knocked them out. Nicky Maynard joined to add to the attacking options, as did Gary Mackay-Steven. Greg Tansey arrived too after he’d agreed a pre contract deal. The main signing of the summer saw long term target Stevie May join the club. This was seen as a chance for him to rebuild his career after he had struggled with injuries in his time in England. After he had signed, Jayden Stockley was allowed to return to England and joined Exeter.
The season started with the club progressing to the third qualifying round of the Europa League where they were knocked out for a fourth consecutive season. They won the first leg at Pittodrie but failed to perform in Cyprus as Apollon Limassol progressed. The quest to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League continues under McInnes. The domestic cups saw Aberdeen lose out to Motherwell in both competitions. They face a major challenge to finish in second place in the League again with Rangers improved and Hibs doing well on their return to the Premiership. The minimum requirement now will be to qualify for Europe again and another crack at getting in to group stages of Europa League.
The league season started well enough with the club being unbeaten throughout August and September. The only blip being the cup loss to Motherwell. The first main challenge in the league came in October as Celtic visited Pittodrie and came away with a 0-3 win.
In January, Tansey was allowed to move to Ross County and doesn’t appear to be in the long term plans of McInnes. Niall McGinn returned after his spell in South Korea was cut short. He started off well on his return but has joined others in not being consistent enough. Other players followed as Michael Devlin joined on a permanent basis from Hamilton. In addition, Chid Nkawali and Freddie Woodman joined on loan from Manchester City and Newcastle respectively.
There was disruption to Aberdeen’s season in December as Rangers made McInnestheir top managerial target after Pedro Caixinha left the club. This was just after the two clubs had met twice within a couple of weeks. After a couple days where McInnes missed training to consider his future, he decided for a second time to stay as Aberdeen manager.
The team have struggled against the top six teams as they’ve failed to win a point against either of the Glasgow teams. They’ve failed to win against Hearts and haven’t even managed to score against them. The team have only managed to take points off of Hibs and Kilmarnock. Their record against the bottom six is what has kept them in contention for second place as only Motherwell from that group have defeated them.
It may be over critical to say it has been a season of disappointment as the team can still finish in second place in the league. There was a chance to get to another Scottish Cup final and make up for disappointment of last season but Motherwell out fought and out thought Aberdeen. There have been few positives apart from the emergence of Scott McKenna as a regular first team player. He has gone on to earn two caps with Scotland and has attracted interest from English Championship clubs.The signings from last summer haven’t worked out as players haven’t been consistent enough and they’ve not perfomed well enough in the bigger games.
There hasn’t been consistency of selection as it appears that McInnes doesn’t know his best team. He has tried to be too clever at times tactically with it not working the majority of the time. It hasn’t been helped by so many players underperforming on the big occasion. Too much respect has been shown in game against Celtic and Rangers in particular which has been costly. It’s even more disappointing when you consider that so many other teams have managed to take points off both of them.
A major rebuilding job will be required in the summer as loan deals end and other players move on. The biggest loss will be Kenny McLean who has been one of the first names on the team sheet under McInnes. Stewart is likely to return to Birmingham as he hasn’t been consistent enough while Christie will return to Celtic as he looks to break in to their first team squad. It is likely that Arnason and O’Connor will move on. Others such as Ball and Woodman will return to their clubs too. Nkawali may stay if Aberdeen take up their option to loan him for a further season.
The squad already lacks depth so there is a big challenge ahead as McInnes will need to improve on his recruitment from this season. Is he capable of building a new team which can give the fans what they want as they look to add further trophies?
The quest to win their first Scottish Cup since 1990 continues.