Aberdeen season preview: Can the Dons put last season's disappointment behind them?
Niall McGinn celebrates his goal against RoPS Rovaniemi in the Europa League first qualifying round this month with teammates Ryan Hedges, Andy Considine and Jon Gallagher (Getty Images/Scott Baxter)

After a less than impressive 2018/19 campaign, Aberdeen are looking to bounce back and re-establish themselves as one of the league's top three. Despite reaching a Betfred Cup Final, the Dons Premiership form left a lot to be desired, and they were pipped to 3rd place by Kilmarnock on the last day of the season. Thanks to Celtic winning the Scottish Cup, Aberdeen were awarded the third and final Europa League qualifying spot, which in truth, they were expected to secure on their own terms.

Constant injury problems and a poor run of home form were a key theme for the Dons last season, and this ultimately saw them fall away from the big two despite a decent spell around Christmas time. Fans of the Red Army have also found the style of football hard to watch at times, and the likes of St Mirren, Livingston and Hamilton were able to take points off the home side at Pittodrie, or in Hamilton's case, all three.

Manager Derek McInnes has once again seen a huge overhaul of players over the summer, as he is fully aware of how another disappointing Scottish Premiership campaign will go down.

Transfer Business Overview

Six new faces have came through the door at Pittodrie in this transfer window so far, and one name in particular should give Dons fans cause for excitement. Aberdeen were able to beat stiff competition from teams both in Scotland and south of the border, to sign experienced midfielder Craig Bryson. The former Scotland international has been playing at a very high level for Derby County in the English Championship for the past eight years, and should serve as a real coup for the club. James Wilson has also made his loan from Manchester United a permanent one, signing on a free transfer, and at just 23, the striker has what it takes to show Aberdeen fans that he is far better than his four goals in 32 appearances suggest. The Dons have also forked out £125,000 for Scunthorpe midfielder Funso Ojo, and McInnes will hope that the Belgian can be the defensive minded midfield player that has been missing at Pittodrie.

Elsewhere Aberdeen have further used the free agent market to their advantage, recruiting Welsh winger Ryan Hedges from Barnsley, after he turned down a new deal with the Championship club. Defender Ash Taylor has also came back to Pittodrie on a free transfer from Northampton for his second spell, which has been the cause for some criticism from large sections of the Aberdeen support. The Dons have also signed English full back Greig Leigh and Irish midfielder Jon Gallagher on loan deals from Dutch side NAC Breda and Atlanta United of the MLS respectively. 

By the way of departures, seven players have left the club from last season, most notably club captain Graeme Shinnie, who has replaced Craig Bryson by moving to Derby County on a free transfer and winger Gary Mackay-Steven, who has jetted off to the US with New York City on a free. Veteran defender Greg Halford has been released by the Dons having made just one appearance, whilst fellow defender Tommie Hoban, who was restricted to just five appearances due to serious injury problems, is also now without a club after he was let go by parent club Watford. Midfielder Dominic Ball has spent the last two seasons on loan with Aberdeen, but has now signed for QPR of the Championship. Forward Greg Stewart endured a torrid six months in the North East on loan last season, and following his release from Birmingham City he has now joined bitter rivals Rangers. Dons fans have been left gutted with the departure of left back Max Lowe who has returned to Derby County, following an excellent loan spell where he immediately became a favourite at Pittodrie.

Early season form

Aberdeen are currently in the midst of their quest to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League, and haven't exactly set the world alight. The Dons won 2-1 in both legs against Finnish outfit RoPS Rovaniemi to progress to the second qualifying stage. They now hold an advantage going into the return leg of their tie with Georgian side Chikhura Sachkhere, after edging out a 1-1 draw in Tbilisi last week. 

Derek McInnes' team have been guilty of squandering numerous opportunities in front of goal in their three competitive matches so far, and will know that they will have to be more clinical if they are to write the wrongs of last season and have a strong Premiership campaign.

Player to watch: Craig Bryson

If the former Derby and Kilmarnock man stay fit, he can be a very important player for the Dons this season. The box-to-box midfielder has years of experience from playing in England's second tier, and thus his presence could be vital in the dressing room as his side once again prepare to do battle with the Old Firm, as well as the likes of Kilmarnock, Hearts and Hibernian. Bryson's signature looks like an absolute steal on paper, and if the 32-year old can remain injury free, he could have a big impact for Aberdeen as they look to compete on all fronts domestically.

One to watch: Dean Campbell

Teenage midfielder Dean Campbell became the youngster player to ever play for the club at 16 years, one month and 23 days when he came on as a late substitute against Celtic in May 2016.

But it wasn't until last season that the youngster was able to make his breakthrough. The 18-year old featured 10 times for the Dons last season, including starts at both Celtic Park and Ibrox

Being a local lad, the midfielder will always get the benefit of the doubt in the North East, but Campbell's tenacity and willingness to get stuck in has already won over the Pittodrie crowd as well as manager McInnes who has showed a lot of faith in him . The teenager is also more than comfortable on the ball, and should continue his development with even more game time this season.

Predicted finish

Given the spending power of the Old Firm, it is unfair to say that the Dons should be aiming for any higher than third. With Steven Gerrard now at the helm, Rangers have been able to attract household names like Jermain Defoe and Steven Davis that no one outside of the top two can afford. However Dons fans will point to the fact their team knocked Rangers out of both domestic cups last season, which suggests that on their day, McInnes' side are a match for anyone. Kilmarnock have been left reeling from manager Steve Clarke's departure, and despite the threat of Hibernian and Hearts, Aberdeen should have what it takes to finish third.

 

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