Monday, August 4, 2014

2014-15 Premiership preview - Dundee United

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LAST SEASON: 4th, 58pts

NOTABLE INS: Mario Bilate (Sparta Rotterdam), Jaroslaw Fojut (Tromso), Callum Morris (Dunfermline Athletic), Blair Spittal (Queen's Park), Charlie Telfer (Rangers)

NOTABLE OUTS: Ryan Gauld (Sporting Lisbon, £3m), Morgaro Gomis (Heart of Midlothian), Gavin Gunning (Birmingham City), Dale Hilson (Forfar Athletic, loan made permanent), Farid El Alagui (Brentford, end of loan), Curtis Good (Newcastle United, end of loan), Mark Millar

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (departed players crossed out): Ciernziak, Watson, Dillon, Gunning, Robertson, Rankin, Paton, Armstrong, Gauld, Mackay-Steven, Ciftci

Dundee United certainly weren't the best side in Scotland last season.  But they were surely the most entertaining.  The swashbuckling attacking play was reckless at times and they got their fingers burned more than once.  Either way, it was fun for the neutrals.

The pace and skill in the final third could be frightening, with Gary Mackay-Steven's trickery, Ryan Gauld's exuberance and the sheer je ne sais quoi of Nadir Ciftci.  All three were prone to infuriating inconsistentency, but when on song they were a lethal combination.  One particularly crucial cog to the attack was actually left back Andrew Robertson, who came out of nowhere (well, Queen's Park) to become one of the stars of the campaign.  More than capable at either end of the pitch, Robertson's pace, skill and intelligence meant that he could look after his entire flank on his own, in attack or defence.  In short, he is a wonderful player.

And he's gone.  Robertson signed for Hull City this summer.  Gauld left too, joining Sporting Lisbon.  The duo brought around £6 million to Tannadice, but Jackie McNamara won't get to see much of it.  Gauld might be an exciting talent but he went off the boil at the end of last season and United found ways of compensating.  Replacing Robertson?  No chance.  They got Conor Townsend on loan from Hull as part of the deal, but if he was as good as Robertson then obviously Hull wouldn't have made the move in the first place.

So Jackie Mac is going to have to put his thinking cap on if United are to be as dangerous as last season.  The mediocre play by his strikers last season often required Ciftci to play up front, but maybe big Dutch striker Mario Bilate will improve the attack and allow Ciftci to drop deeper.  If Ciftci or Mackay-Steven are sold or get crocked, it will be a big blow, though it is softened somewhat by the sudden improvement in Ryan Dow's play in 2014.  A more direct option than Mackay-Steven, his workrate and speed offer a completely different threat.  Chris Erskine and Michael Gardyne are both still at the club, but both spent most of last season out on loan, where they proved once and for all that they aren't cut out for the Premiership.  Neither have a future here.

Otherwise, United are in pretty good nick.  The centre of midfield should be fine, with John Rankin and Paul Paton proving an excellent combination last season.  With Gauld and Robertson gone, Stuart Armstrong should finally start getting the plaudits he deserves.  Armstrong can do everything well.  He will be the next player to command a fat fee.  And highly-rated youngster Charlie Telfer may see some action too - he had better, given United will have to pay Rangers a fee for him.

At the back, Gavin Gunning has also left, but that's not an insurmountable loss by any stretch; he could be impervious, but he could also be a walking catastrophe.  McNamara has brought in Polish defender Jaroslaw Fojut to replace him.  Fojut can't be too shabby, given that Celtic were on the brink of signing him two years ago before a cruciate ligament injury.  Hopefully this will be the year that John Souttar takes a step forward, as the teenager didn't really impress last season.  If not, it will be captain Sean Dillon who will fill in.  Dillon played his best football in 2013-14, but that isn't saying much.  Another new signing, ex-Dunfermline man Callum Morris, is surely only a backup.

Behind them, Radoslaw Ciernziak is no longer secure as first choice keeper after another Pole, Michal Szromnik, was brought in.  Maybe the competition will focus Ciernziak's mind and lead to him cutting out the errors that stop him from playing at a higher level.  Maybe not.  At right back, Keith Watson seems to be established as first choice over veteran Mark Wilson.  He's decent, but he doesn't provide the attacking threat that Robertson did, not by a long shot.

So, unless one or two of the young players make a big impact, Dundee United won't be quite as fluid as last season.  But McNamara can be trusted to bring some through; surely at least one of Telfer, Souttar and Blair Spittal will take the Premiership by storm.  If that is the case, they will be a team to watch again.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1993 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Radoslaw Ciernziak, Marc McCallumMichal Szromnik
Defenders: Calum Butcher, Sean Dillon, Jaroslaw Fojut, Callum Morris, John SouttarConor Townsend, Keith Watson, Mark Wilson
Midfielders: Stuart Armstrong, Nadir Ciftci, Aidan Connolly, Chris Erskine, Scott Fraser, Michael Gardyne, Gary Mackay-Steven, Paul Paton, Darren Petrie, John Rankin, Scott SmithBlair SpittalCharlie Telfer
Forwards: Mario Bilate, Ryan Dow, Brian Graham, Kudus Oyenuga


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