Rome was not built in day but Derek McInnes had a good go at doing it in a few weeks.
McInnes lost eight players from his Aberdeen squad in the summer, including the heartbeat of the team Graeme Shinnie and first-team regular Gary Mackay-Steven, with a host of loan players also returning to their parent clubs.
However, in the space of six weeks he had added eight players to plug those gaps, with only Funso Ojo arriving after the start of the Europa League campaign. That in itself is a huge plus, given in season’s past McInnes has been working right up until the transfer deadline to assemble his squad.
Signing Ojo from Scunthorpe and Craig Bryson from Derby County will arguably be the two to fill the hole left by Shinnie. A 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 has been preferred in the European games, indicating perhaps a change of style and easing the burden somewhat on the midfield, which relied heavily on Shinnie and Lewis Ferguson throughout last season.
McInnes has an abundance of options out wide, with Ryan Hedges and Jon Gallagher coming in to join the returning Scott Wright, Niall McGinn and Connor McLennan. The latter was a real breakthrough last season and hopefully will continue to get opportunities this campaign, while Hedges is one McInnes is keen to see as his match-winner. You would argue those two should be the two starting wide players, with the other three there as viable alternatives.
James Wilson’s return to Pittodrie is a boost, after some promising displays at the end of last year’s loan spell, while if McInnes can coax similar performances out of Curtis Main that he has delivered against Aberdeen in the past, then he will be on to a winner.
However, at present, much of the onus seems to be on Sam Cosgrove to deliver the goals but there is some flexibility for Aberdeen to play two up front in games they are expected to dominate the ball.
Defensively is where the concerns will be just now, given injuries to Ash Taylor and Mikey Devlin, and Greg Leigh just coming back into the equation. There is also the issue of whether someone makes a substantial offer for Scott McKenna and prises him away, given the almost constant ream of teams linked to him over the past 18 months. That places a lot of onus on Shay Logan and Andy Considine, not only to remain fit but also continuing to deliver the consistency that has made them regular picks under McInnes.
Joe Lewis’ selection as club captain seems to have been universally popular, given his standing both in the dressing room and on the terraces. He is a sure-fire starter every week and was named the club’s player of the year last season.
Third place should be well within the Dons’ grasp this season. Kilmarnock are showing signs of wobbling under new manager Angelo Alessio, while the fortunes of both Edinburgh clubs are notoriously hard to predict. Motherwell have started the season brilliantly in the Betfred Cup and have made some savvy additions, which should see them return to the top six again.
If they are to finish any higher then their points tally against the Old Firm will have to increase again. They took seven points from a possible 24 against them last season and regaining their place in the top two will require another substantial push.
Key man: Lewis Ferguson.