It goes without saying that every single player will go into a new season wanting it to be a good one. For some player however, it’s even more important. Those that without a good season might not have a contract offer come the end of the campaign, or might miss out on that big move as a result. These players would see a long-term injury as a nail in the coffin rather than a road bump. So we’ve looked at five Premiership players who especially need to raise some eyebrows in 20/21.
Leigh Griffiths – To earn a new contract at Celtic
Leigh Griffiths seems like he has been around forever, but he’s still only 29. The Celtic striker has had some difficult times for the past few years, but he managed to show plenty signs of being on the up last term.
Scoring 11 times in 31 appearances last season was pretty impressive all things considered. Although Griffiths will likely want to get back to starting far more games, and closer to the 20 goals a season mark – he has not exceed that number since 15/16 where he notched an incredible 40 goals in total.
According to Modern Fitba’s data, Griffiths had an expected goal rate (excluding penalties) of six, he actually scored 9 (no penalties). So while he did outperform his XG, so did Odsonne Edouard, and it would be no great shock if players at such a dominant club like Celtic would continue to do so.
By the time we reach the end of the 20/21 season Griffiths will have just a year left to run on his Celtic deal – unless he extends beforehand of course – and will be in the 30’s. Celtic have shown the Scotland forward a lot of loyalty to their centre-forward, but with the likes of Odsonne Edouard, Patryk Kimala and Vakoun Issouf Bayo to compete with – at a club that won’t be shy at spending money on another striker. The summer of 2021 might become Celtic’s opportunity to get some cash for Griffiths.
All at Celtic Park are quite aware a time will come when Edouard moves on, so if Griffiths can manage to stay firmly seated as the second choice at the club – especially if they continue to play with two up top – and at the very least hit double figures next season, he’s got a good chance at a renewal.
However, fail to hit the ground running this season and Griffiths could find himself falling down the pecking order with the Champions and staring at a potential exit.
Recent drama involving Griffiths, which happened after the majority of this section was written, casts even more doubt on his future – he might not even have the chance to have a good 20/21 season at Celtic.
Ali McCann – To get a big move
It was a big season for St Johnstone midfielder Ali McCann, having previously seen his only consistent minutes in senior football in a short loan with Stranraer, he played more minutes than all but two other Saints players this past season. Only goalkeeper Zander Clark and club captain Jason Kerr were on the pitch more often.
It was a more than impressive campaign for McCann as he became integral to Tommy Wright’s side, was on the shortlist for young player of the year and had plenty of fans online suggesting he should have taken the prize instead of Aberdeen’s Lewis Ferguson.
Perhaps one of the most impressive things about the 20-year-old is that his performances suggest he is well rounded and can offer quality in a range of roles in the centre of the park. As you’d expect at St Johnstone, McCann often shows up in defensive situations. He gets in the oppositions face, is high energy and isn’t afraid of a tackle.
However, it would be unfair to pigeon-hole McCann as simply a ‘defensive midfielder’. The majority of his passes are made forwards and just how crucial he is in attacking situations for the Saints is shown with an expected goal chain of 0.41 per 90 last season – one of the higher involvements in creating chances of the whole team.
Four goals and two assists throughout the campaign can be built on, his goal at Pittodrie against Aberdeen especially suggests a natural flare and composure. It likely works to his advantage that he isn’t getting into the box during every attack because his unexpected bursts forward can go un-checked. McCann will nonetheless likely want to add to these numbers in 20/21 to show progression.
It’s an important season for McCann in many respects. Firstly, he’s been suggested by many as a player who can move on to greater things, but he will need to show he can take his form from last season and not only maintain but also build on it to attract the best suitors. That test is made all the more interesting by the fact McCann will need to adapt to new manager Callum Davidson after spending his entire time at St Johnstone with Wright. Finally, turning 21 in the winter, it’s a key age for McCann to continue to develop. Even if he stagnates at his 19/20 level he’s still going to be one of St Johnstone’s best players, but to move elsewhere he will need to add to his game.
Ryan Hedges – To stay at Aberdeen
Aberdeen fans were rightfully fairly excited to sign winger Ryan Hedges last summer. A Wales international who impressed early on with solid performances in the Europa League, followed by a last gasp winner on the opening day of the League season at home to Hearts.
While not possessing the pace of some of his counterparts at Cormack Park, Hedges does have incredibly quick feet, an eye for a bit of flare and his six foot frame is bigger than other wide men at the Dons.
One thing Derek Mcinnes had to do with Hedges this past season is manage injuries, with the Welshman coming off of an absence hit spell at Barnsley. Mcinnes and his fitness team mostly managed to do that, but it did come at a price. Be it an attempt to avoid muscle issues, a ceiling on the winger’s fitness or a combination of both, Hedges was often substituted when he did start games – usually around the hour mark.
Eleven other players had more minutes for Aberdeen last season, and January signing Matty Kennedy played more after his arrival too. These players that played more included competition Niall McGinn and loanees Jon Gallagher and Zak Vyner. Vyner departed back to Bristol City in January after a shoulder injury, and Gallagher barely played after Christmas. Of course these are skewed slightly by the fact Hedges would have had a good chance to overtake some of these players had the season not ended early, but it shows he isn’t exactly at the top of the pecking order.
Hedges managed six assists and four goals in just less than 2000 minutes in 19/20. While that isn’t staggering by any means, it’s certainly something to build on. Expected assists and goals suggest Hedges probably outperformed both stats however, so a bit of luck might be involved as well.
To the eye though, Hedges did often look dangerous both in open play and from set-pieces. His major issue probably came down to consistency, both in the minutes he was given but also what he made of those he did get.
Many Aberdeen fans might have felt Hedges was destined for the exit this coming season, but Covid-19 may have actually played to his favour. With Derek Mcinnes saying signings are unlikely, he’s probably going to try and keep his squad together. The arrival of Jonny Hayes obviously doesn’t help matters for Hedges, but early suggestions in interview with Mcinnes do point towards Hayes being used as a left-back.
Also, Hedges tends to come inside a lot as he is often played on the right. The evidence from this does suggest he’s comfortable centrally and with that attacking midfield spot still being one nobody at the club has made their own, he could even adapt his game to fill it.
At 25-years-old Hedges is a player who has shown a lot of potential at various clubs up until this point, but he will need to start realising it. This long pre-season will give Hedges and the fitness staff at Cormack Park a chance to work on his ability to last full games while not pushing his legs too far. If given consistent minutes it’s then all down to Hedges to take advantage. It’s clear the skill is there, but performing at a consistent basis and retaining a place in the team is quite another challenge.
Robby McCrorie – To return to Ibrox as number 1
Rangers youngster Robby McCrorie could be a future Scotland number one. Both his club and country will be hoping he fulfils a wealth of potential because both of them need long-term solutions in a position that both the Gers and Steve Clarke’s Scotland have aging players in.
Having spent half of last season in the Championship with Queen of the South, before graduating to the Premiership with Livingston, it’s fair to say fans of both clubs were high on McCrorie, as were the coaching staff at both clubs. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise that the keeper will return to the Tony Macaroni for the 21/21 season.
As was the case last season, the defensive line will have made changes at Livingston once again. However, if they can adapt the way they managed this time last year then chances are McCrorie will have a competent unit in front of him.
Having only turned 22 earlier this year, things aren’t as make or break for McCrorie as they are for others players on this list. With that said however, he will now get his chance at a full season playing in the Premiership, if he doesn’t impress then Rangers could very well go out buy a new goalkeeper already in his prime next Summer, rather than wait for McCrorie to develop. That could then spell the end of hopes for the youngster making it as the number one at Ibrox.
Of course, on the flip side, a good season for McCrorie – or perhaps an exceptional one – could put him in contention to become the main man between the sticks at Ibrox, especially if Alan McGregor decides to retire at the conclusion of the campaign.
Christian Doidge – To prove he isn’t a ‘one season wonder’
Christian Doidge didn’t score his first League goal in a Hibernian shirt until November 2019 against St Johnstone away from home. He very quickly followed that up with two more that day to get a hat-trick. This was somewhat out of character for a summer signing who’d to that point scored twice in the League Cup against Championship opposition and played nine times in the league without scoring. This included a day at Pittodrie where it seemed as though Joe Lewis could stand still in a 1v1 and the Welshman would still somehow hit the keeper.
Doidge hasn’t looked back since that goal against the Saints though, he scored four games in a row following claiming the match ball and finished the season with 18 goals in all competitions. You can see why Hibs fans are excited for the season ahead with Jack Ross getting a pre-season behind him and the likes of Alex Gogic, Kevin Nisbet and Drey Wright joining an already talented roster at Easter Road.
It’s an important campaign for Doidge because he will turn 28 a month into it, he’s right in his prime and he won’t want to end up wasting any of that prime with a long spell without goals or even out of the team, you also never know if there is a potential for a higher value contract at Hibs or elsewhere if he replicates last season’s form.
The reason why their might be some doubts comes down to a familiar cliché for most strikers. Until Doidge replicates his form in another campaign there will be detractors claiming he is, or may be, a ‘one season wonder’. This of course is based off of nothing more than the fact he’s only had one season for Hibs, he literally could do nothing to prevent these claims.
There isn’t really huge statistical backing for this claim either, at least not when looking at expected goals. Doidge scored 12 of his 18 in the League, and his XG (not including penalties) was 11.68. While his hot streak at the tail end of 2019 might have been somewhat fortunate at times, he was also unfortunate in the first few months of the season, things rounded themselves out as they tend to do for quality strikers. Not to mention Doidge has a history of consistent scoring, albeit at lower levels in England.
The fact Doidge isn’t a penalty taker helps his case here too, unlike some other players a portion of his goals won’t dry up if they go through a spell of few spot-kicks. Another one the checklist is consistency. Some might have levelled at Doidge in December that he’d just had a hot streak of scoring but needed to do it on a more consistent basis – he did that towards the early end to the season. Finally, one thing Doidge could do to help move him up in considerations is score in the big games. Ultimately this doesn’t just help your highlight reel but it realistically can be the difference between appears at Hampden, winning silverware, qualifying for European competitions and even big moments in those continental tournaments. Doidge has yet to score against either of the Old Firm, or in a derby against Hearts. Although he has scored once against Motherwell and once against Aberdeen.
If Doidge can score like he did last season, or even add to it, and if Jack Ross can improve the defence (the third worst in the division last season)then Hibs will easily be challenging for European spots. If the defence isn’t fixed but Doidge is scoring it’s the difference between top six and bottom half or even a relegation battle – so either way, his goals are absolutely crucial.
Who do you think needs a big season in 20/21? Let us know @N98FT on Twitter.