Derek McInnes’s squad are blend of experience and youth
28 February ~ If Aberdeen win at Celtic on Sunday, they’ll go joint top of the league. Celtic have a better goal difference and a game in hand but, at this stage of the season, Aberdeen’s challenge has enlivened what has been such a predictable league. Only Rangers have finished within 15 points of Celtic in the last 15 seasons. It seems almost certain that Aberdeen will smash through that barrier this year, and if they win on Sunday there will be no reason to write off their chances of winning the title. They’ve won 11 – all with clean sheets – and drawn two of their last 13 league matches.
Manager Derek McInnes has assembled a strong, experienced squad. Striker Adam Rooney has scored 23 goals so far this season. Former Celtic winger Niall McGinn has provided his fair share of creativity and goals since he arrived at Pittodrie in 2012, and was shortlisted for PFA Scotland’s Player of the Year in his first season at Aberdeen. Willo Flood and Barry Robson also provide experience in midfield.
McInnes’s squad also includes young talent. Peter Pawlett and Ryan Jack are both homegrown midfielders who have each made well over 100 appearances for the club, even though they are 24 and 23 respectively. Roma and Napoli are both reportedly interested in signing Jack. In the transfer window, McInnes also signed bright 23-year-old attacking midfielder Kenny McLean from St Mirren.
Celtic, meanwhile, have started to indicate that they have the potential to fulfil their manager Ronny Deila’s flowing, attacking vision, with a string of consistent performances in Scotland and respectable results against Inter in the Europa League. But they’re still a work in progress. And they’re still in three competitions, while Aberdeen can concentrate on the league after being knocked out of both cups. Aberdeen have had a week to prepare for Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash, while Celtic played in Milan on Thursday.
At Aberdeen’s AGM in December the club confirmed an investment that made them free of debt. Previously, £14.5 million of debt had affected their ability to operate to the potential of a club of their size. The lack of competition in Scottish football has long been based on Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United’s inability to provide a consistent, sustained challenge on the pitch, based on stable foundations off it, as well as Celtic and pre-administration Rangers’ financial dominance.
Whenever Celtic have demonstrated vulnerability, no one has been ready to exploit it. But now Aberdeen and Dundee United are debt-free. And Aberdeen are the first to display the potential to make the Scottish league far more interesting. Mark Poole