What next for Aberdeen after Celtic loss?
Aberdeen couldn’t make the most of their trip to Celtic Park as the Scottish Champions recovered from being knocked out of the Europa League at the San Siro in midweek with a dominating 4-0 win.
This match was always likely to go Celtic’s way, yet Aberdeen arrived in Glasgow with a 13 match unbeaten run and had they come away with a win then we may well have had a genuine Scottish title challenge on our hands for the first time since Rangers’ demotion in 2012.
A 4-0 reverse, however, leaves Aberdeen six points behind Celtic who have played one game fewer. It’s almost certainly Celtic’s title now, but for Aberdeen the big question is this: what next?
Under Derek McInnes Aberdeen have built a top squad, one which can’t quite compete with Celtic but which is superior to any other in the country. Now, though, that squad has little to play for other than consolidating 2nd place in the league with the Dons curretly sitting four points ahead of 3rd placed Inverness but with a game in hand.
The Dons had a league cup final to look forward to this stage last season, yet they are now out of both cup competitions and effectively out of the title race. This could be McInnes’ greatest challenge yet as he strives to keep a squad full of ambitious players motivated.
The future does look very bright for this team. Aberdeen should get another crack at the Europa League next season and if they can keep this current squad of players together then there is no reason why they can’t make it into the group stage this time round.
Having passed Daugava Riga and Groningen in the qualifying stages this season Aberdeen were handed a glamour tie with Real Sociedad. Unfortunately they couldn’t keep up with the Spaniards and lost the tie 5-2. Aberdeen are a better side now than they were then and unless the Pittodrie side is handed another tough draw this side should expect a group stage place.
Aberdeen have already signed up Inverness star full-back Graeme Shinnie on a pre-contract agreement and they also made the effort to sign Saint Mirren’s midfield star Kenny McLean in the January transfer window when they could have again waited until the summer.
Bit by bit, Aberdeen are acquiring some top British talent. Signings in recent years include players with experience at the top level such as David Goodwillie from Blackburn and ex-Celtic men Willo Flood and Barry Robson, while Aberdeen have also acquired emerging stars such as Adam Rooney, Shaleum Logan and the aforementioned McLean.
Combined with existing Aberdeen stars like goalkeeper Jamie Langfield, centre-back Russell Anderson and winger Peter Pawlett, Aberdeen have constructed a team ready to once again take on Europe’s best.
Keeping this group of talented players motivated until the end of the season could prove to be a challenge. Yet if it is a challenge that is overcome this Aberdeen side is more than capable of advancing to the Europa League group stages next season and of once again pushing Celtic close at the top of the table.
It’s an exciting time for Dons fans. And you know what? It’s an exciting time for all of us on looking in from the outside as well.