PREDICTED LEAGUE FINISH: FOURTH
LAST SEASON: 2nd, 71pts
NOTABLE INS: Neil Alexander (Heart of Midlothian), Joe Lewis (Cardiff City), Callum Morris (Dundee United), Anthony O'Connor (Burton Albion), Jayden Stockley (Bournemouth), Miles Storey (Swindon Town), Wes Burns (Bristol City, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Scott Brown (Wycombe Wanderers), Willo Flood (Dundee United), David Goodwillie (Plymouth Argyle), Michael Rose (Ayr United), Aaron Lennox (Raith Rovers, loan), Danny Rogers (Falkirk, loan), Lawrence Shankland (St. Mirren, loan), Cammy Smith (Dundee United, loan), Simon Church (Milton Keynes Dons, end of loan), Adam Collin (Rotherham United, end of loan), Barry Robson (retired)
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (departed players crossed out):
The days of being unable to kick a jellybean are long gone. The last three seasons have produced a League Cup win and back-to-back second placed finishes for Aberdeen; under the leadership of Derek McInnes they not only established themselves as 'the best of the rest', but actually made a genuine push for the title last time out.
Sadly, one wonders if 2015-16 was the mother of missed opportunities for the Dons. Celtic surely won't punch so far below their weight this time; meanwhile, another well-resourced Glasgow club have hovered back into view; the clash between Aberdeen and Rangers on 25th September could well match any Old Firm game this season for poison.
The question is whether the dreadful finish to last season was a sign that this team has peaked, or can be explained away by fatigue, lack of squad depth and the fact that the quality of goalkeeping slumped alarmingly after Danny Ward left in January. McInnes has certainly solved the problem between the sticks; Joe Lewis' career may have stalled after an England call-up at age 21, but he will stand out in Scotland - not least because of his 6ft 5in frame. Meanwhile, the evergreen Neil Alexander, first choice at Hearts last year, is now probably the best back-up keeper in the country.
And whereas they previously struggled when Adam Rooney was unfit, now the quandary is how to keep a flock of forwards happy now that Jayden Stockley, Miles Storey and Wes Burns have flown in. Storey and Burns are both capable of playing wide, and it may be that's how McInnes plans to use them. But with Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes the first two names on the teamsheet, it won't be easy to squeeze them all in.
The concerns remain in the centre of defence and the centre of midfield, and they will be big concerns unless Mark Reynolds and Ryan Jack can find form again after both disappointed last time out. The need for skipper Jack to lead by example is even more pressing now that Willo Flood has left, but thankfully his recent Europa League performances have been excellent. Aberdeen are short of options to partner him, with Graeme Shinnie so much more effective at left-back, Hayes so much more dangerous on the wing, and Kenny McLean stifled when deployed in a deeper role. Another new boy, Anthony O'Connor, could play there if a defensive player is needed more than an all-action one, but that will be relatively rare. Craig Storie, who played well in the new year before fading, might be a wildcard.
As for the defence, everything looks rosy in the full-back areas after Shay Logan committed to a new contract, while Shinnie continues to get better year-on-year - and if he is stuck in midfield then Andrew Considine has proven very effective at left-back. Not so in the centre though, where both he and Ash Taylor appear terribly accident-prone. McInnes has taken a bit of a risk by not strengthening this position (and no, Callum Morris does not count!).
I'd have liked to see youngster Scott McKenna get a shot, but it seems more likely he'll be punted out on loan, like Lawrence Shankland, Cammy Smith and Danny Rogers already have. All these guys are talents; sadly, Aberdeen seem unable or unwilling to give them the gametime they need to prove themselves.
Even if they're stronger than last season, a title challenge is even less realistic this time out. A more likely outcome is a duel with Rangers and probably a resurgent Hearts for that second place. That's definitely do-able. I certainly can't see Aberdeen finishing outside the top four, but can they keep their place on the podium?
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1995 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Neil Alexander, Joe Lewis
Defenders: Andrew Considine, Daniel Harvie, Shay Logan, Scott McKenna, Callum Morris, Mark Reynolds, Graeme Shinnie, Ash Taylor
Midfielders: Jonny Hayes, Ryan Jack, Kenny McLean, Anthony O'Connor, Peter Pawlett, Frank Ross, Craig Storie
Forwards: Wes Burns, Niall McGinn, Connor McLennan, Joe Nuttall, Adam Rooney, Jayden Stockley, Miles Storey, Scott Wright
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.