2020/21 Season Preview - Aberdeen: McInnes' Most Important Season Yet
The 2020/21 season will see Derek McInnes undertake his 8th full season in charge of the club, following his arrival in the Granite City at the tail end of the 2012/13 season. The former St Johnstone and Bristol City manager joined the club with a desire to make the city fall in love with the club again and has had a great reign so far. It's always going to be a hard task for a manager outwith the top two but McInnes' has completely turned the Dons fortunes around. Before McInnes, Aberdeen had spent 4 consecutive seasons outside the top 6, lingering around 8th and 9th place. Ever since, Aberdeen haven't finished lower than 4th, with four finishes as runners up.
However, things have started to sour a little, with fans growing tired of McInnes and feeling a potential managerial change is needed. The Dons have finished the past two seasons in 4th, behind Kilmarnock in 2019 and Motherwell in 2020, with a direct style of play growing on the Pittodrie faithful. McInnes previous success with the club seems to now be going against him, with expectations being set fairly high due to the recent years of finishing close to the big boys, European qualifiers and progressing far into the domestic cups.
With many clubs in Scotland, it is always going to be hard to continually have strong seasons, with teams from elsewhere picking the best players leaving constant rebuilds. For this reason, McInnes deserves great credit as he's consistently managed to keep the Dons as a definite top 6 team, something that clubs of similar size such as Hibs and Hearts haven't been able to do in recent years.
These expectations created are also the reason as to why this upcoming season is the most important for McInnes yet. The last two seasons have shown a bit of a drop from Aberdeen, with certain signings not quite hitting the mark and the likes of McLean, Shinnie and many others being sorely missed. The lack of quality has seen the club be overtaken in consecutive seasons to third place with the upcoming season looking to be even more competitive.
Motherwell have improved their squad with some quality and depth whilst managing to keep a hold of their key players. The same can be said for Livingston who finished 5th last year and has also added smartly to their squad with limited departures so far. Hibs recruitment so far has been very encouraging as the teams around the Dons have bolstered their squads, making a very tough season ahead imminent.
With fans already starting to show some unrest towards McInnes, should Aberdeen start poorly or fall behind any of the aforementioned this will surely only grow. Regardless of what has happened in the past or the loyalty McIness has shown, fans and board members are only interested in the here and now. It's going to be a tough season for Aberdeen and McInnes will need to get the best out of his team for potentially the sake of his job. Some already want him out as Aberdeen's position in the top 4 looks to be challenged even more so than last season. With Aberdeen looking to move to a new stadium and the pandemic, funds may not be as available to McIness to improve his squad as many have done so recently and because of this, their season may suffer.
It was clear last season that the Aberdeen side needed freshening up and desperately needed some creativity injected into the side. Jonny Hayes has returned from Celtic and will definitely add pace to the side and his work rate will make him a worthy addition. Whether or not it is the same Hayes that left three years ago is still to be seen and with the winger now aged 33, it may be too much to rely on the Irishman to turn things around. Hayes is a good signing nonetheless, the main problem is that the winger is the only new arrival of the season so far.
Hayes is a very energetic player and will drive at players from the flanks but Aberdeen are in need of more technical talent. They haven't been able to settle on an attacking midfielder, a gap that has been filled with brilliant talents such as James Maddison, Ryan Christie and Kenny McLean. The transfer window has a long way to go but with the league starting very soon, the Dons could do with some more new faces before the campaign starts. Quality and depth is needed, with the Dons needing some more cover at full-back, most particularly on the left-hand side. Unless McInnes plans on deploying Hayes there, this then means the club could do with some more quality going forward but ideally, more acquisitions in both positions. Unfortunately, McInnes was quoted in the Aberdeen Evening Express announcing there won't be new arrivals unless someone leaves the club.
A positive for the Dons is they have managed to keep ahold of their key players, with Sam Cosgrove deciding to stay over a move to the second division in France. Cosgrove didn't have the best of seasons last year but was still the main focal point of Aberdeen's attack and is a proven goalscorer. Defensively, Aberdeen are always fairly solid and this should continue, with Lewis and McKenna remaining valuable members in the backline. Keeping a hold of the highly-thought of Lewis Ferguson will be great as the young midfielder continues to go from strength to strength in his development at the club.
The Dons start the season at home to Rangers which is always a feisty affair followed up by a trip to Perth to face St Johnstone. The opening month of the season is going to be tough for Aberdeen, playing 4 of the other top 6 teams last year with games against Hamilton and Hibs in August as well. McInnes and Aberdeen will definitely need to be firing from the start otherwise pressure will come from the fans, even with empty capacities.
Derek McInnes is still a very good manager and his recent successes seem to be going against him and with a very competitive season around the corner, things could go south. However, McInnes has done great over the past 7 years and adapted on many occasions and kept the club consistent. He is more than deserving of time and to be given the chance should the club have a poor spell due to all he has done for the club. It's hard to see Aberdeen having a calamitous season with the talent they currently have still being better than the majority of teams in the league. However, this is an incredibly important season that could define McInnes tenure at the club, despite his hands being tied due to certain circumstances. Fans will need to be sensible in these times but football is a fickle game, meaning McInnes will need to rise to the challenge yet again.