How each squad of the 12 Premiership teams are shaping up a week from Kick-off

For some clubs they are still looking to add enough numbers to their squad ahead of the campaign kicking off next weekend, for others they are looking for that little bit of extra quality, and some appear to have finished their business altogether. Lets look at how each club is shaping up:

Worth noting that the formations/systems will obviously chop and change throughout the season, it’s just a rough idea – same thing with the starting XI. Also, we’ve only listed each player once, but some can cover various positions.

We’ve added plenty youth prospects but there will of course be some we’ve missed, and we’ve included long-term injuries and players who appear to be all but gone just for arguments sake.

Aberdeen

The Dons have some pretty good depth at the club in all positions, although they don’t really have a senior player who is an out and out left-back.

With Johnny Hayes having played in that area for the last few years, combined with plenty depth further forward out wide and an injury to Michael Devlin potentially meaning Andrew Considine is required at centre-half, we’d expect Hayes to play in the defense. Youngster Jack Mackenzie could be called upon for his debut in an injury crisis – or Shay Logan can also deputies on the opposite side.

Other than that, the Dons may lack a real natural number 10 and their wingers while talented will need to find more consistent form. Some may be concerned about the depth behind Sam Cosgrove, although Bruce Anderson has been in excellent form in pre-season.

Aberdeen

Celtic

Celtic are another club with plenty of depth in most places. Centre-back and goalkeeper are the two obvious points here, it’s unlikely Neil Lennon will want to stick with Scott Bain as a number one choice, and he will almost certainly want more experienced depth in the heart of his defense.

Another winger wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but with Christie able to play out there and potentially more minutes for Shved and Dembele, not many supporters will complain.

No issue with depth at striker, but Lennon may want to recruit to add more quality and dependability, which has certainly been the rumor.

Celtic

Dundee United

Most recruitment efforts for United will surely be focused on the back-line. New coach Mickey Mellon has previously used a back five, but right now he barely has the depth for four at the back.

Sporle can play as a left-back, but it’s likely a new addition may be required to support Jamie Robson, and a centre-half has to be the priority, they might even need two.

United could improve the quality further up the pitch, but they’ve got plenty of depth and could probably get away with a striker, or a winger, or someone who can be utilised in both positions.

Dundee United

Hamilton Accies

Again, the back-line is where Accies will be looking to recruit. They’ve only got one left-back, and both right-backs we’ve listed have more often played at the heart of defense for Hamilton – with Easton out injured for the majority of the remainder of the year as well. So a couple of full-backs are likely needed.

While the numbers are there at centre-back, some Accies fans worry the quality isn’t, so that could also be a position to look at.

There are decent numbers further up the pitch, but another midfielder wouldn’t be an awful idea if they can find one fitting the right style. That’s only if you go with this 4-4-2 diamond we’ve suggested, if Brian Rice wants to use wingers more frequently then he will probably need to dip into the market for one or two of them.

Hamilton

Hibernian 

Hibs will likely chop and change their formation throughout the season as they usually do, but we felt this shape could potentially get the most out of their assets.

There are a few players where it feels like you might be trying to fit square pegs into round holes, but being flexible in the formation does help that. You can certainly argue a really good centre-back addition would be nice as Hibs did conceded a lot last term, but if one isn’t available then they are better off keeping their cash instead of gambling.

A left-back is also an argument that  will be had, although should they use wing-backs it’s easier to use a more attacking player if Stevenson is out, not so much in a back four though.

Midfield could certainly do with another addition, possibly allowing Murray to go out on loan and having Halberg and Mallan as options off the bench would be good for the Easter Road side. They likely need and want someone in the Greg Docherty fit, but it might be difficult to get Docherty, or someone like him.

We’ve included Kamberi even though many expect him to leave, because you never know, even if he does depart his wages would probably be better off spent elsewhere in the team to allow decent minutes for Nisbet and Gullan, you can always go one up top in the event of an injury crisis.

Hibs

Kilmarnock

Killie are one of the teams needing to do the most business – although in all fairness, they’ve been doing plenty over the past few days.

A goalkeeper, and maybe another one, are first on the list. Former loanee Daniel Bachmann is linked and would be an excellent addition, but Alex Dyer may need to wait on Watford before that can happen. Former Aberdeen man Danny Rodgers is also linked, he could be a good stop-gap for the first game or two if Killie are left waiting before becoming a very capable number two. Although he might not be keen on being a back-up keeper once again.

The additions of Haunstrup and McGowan make the back-line look a lot more balanced, but a fourth centre-back would be helpful, seeing as another centre-mid is likely required for depth as well, one that could double up as a emergency centre-back isn’t the worst idea in the world.

After all of that it might be a bit ambitious for Killie fans to hope for even more, but a winger capable of playing on both sides would be icing on the cake.

Killie

Livingston 

Livi again have the ability to really switch things up formation and system-wise, so this is just a rough guide.

They actually have the luxury of maybe needing to get rid of one or two players, although we’ve included a few in here that Livi fans reckon are off already anyway.

Right-back/right-wing back might be a place to look at for Gary Holt. We’ve got Pignatiello down as a back-up but he has no Premiership experience and right-back is just one of the areas he played in at Stranraer on loan, so that’s the area that screams out.

Alan Forrest is a good addition and looks like he could quite suitably fill the gap left by Steven Lawless of playing off of Lyndon Dykes and drifting about the place.

You could argue another central midfielder would be good, especially with a few injuries there at the moment, but that might be more hassle than it’s worth once those absentees are back.

Livingston

Motherwell

Motherwell operate on a fairly respectable budget for what they’ve achieved over the past few seasons, so you always expect a few players to be filling in multiple areas and some youth players making up the depth.

As far as this squad goes it feels unlikely we will see many more additions. Maybe a right-back or a left-back, but not both. The left-side might be the better area to look at for this with Jake Carroll currently out injured.

In the centre of the park another midfielder might add some experience to the depth, but this also depends on the shape and if David Turnbull is used as we suggest here as a bit of a wide ten, drifting inside but not initially taking one of the starting 3 spots centrally. If not, and Turnbull does start centrally then a winger might be the best option to recruit. Playing Turnbull like this also requires someone like Carroll at left-back to get up and down the flank.

Motherwell

Rangers 

You won’t see Rangers struggling to put an XI together of senior players together this season, but like Celtic it’s the quality in depth they’ll be looking at as opposed to just numbers.

The Gers will want players who can push the standards of those starting, and produce off of the bench.

It’s probably either striker or winger that they’d be looking at needing for this quality. Defoe isn’t getting any younger and was looking more like his age towards the end of last season, Hagi can be used centrally too and while there are plenty of options on either flank after he and Kent, none of them appear to have captured Steven Gerrard’s imagination.

There is a case for a back-up right-back as well, but Nathan Paterson is just about the only young lad looking like he could make the step-up right now. That’s not for a lack of quality from younger players at Ibrox, but more so the difficulty in finding minutes. Plus Ross McCrorie can fill in there too. With Taverneir often playing so many minutes as well, it would feel a waste of cash and maybe even potential.

Rangers

Ross County

Similarly to a few other teams, County won’t run with a massive squad – although they’ve currently got 2 players for every position apart from right-back. That’ll be the first area they’ll want to look at, Loanee Randall being the only natural right full-back is a gamble. Goalkeeper is another position suggested by a few County supporters.

We probably won’t see much more business from the Staggies but a winger or particularly attacking midfielder could work quite well – they really would need to get rid of a striker if they want another one.

Ross County

St Johnstone

A lot of St Johnstone fans think they’ll go with a back five, but how the players ahead of that form up is less clear – either way they can switch it up between a 5-3-2, a 5-2-3 or even variations of a 4-4-2.

Clearly having four centre-backs is okay if you are planning on just playing two at a time, but they’ll need the adaptability of a back-four should two centre-halves not be available at one time.

The centre of midfield really sticks out as a place to recruit for Callum Davidson, especially if using three of them. Cammy Ballantyne is acting as back-up here in our depth chart but even after a very good season with Montrose in League One, it would be a big step-up. The loan market could prove quite fruitful for the Saints.

Wide men are required if they do revert to a form of 4-4-2, Craig Conway is on trial and is looking likely, another winger on top of him again might be greedy but it would certainly provide competition. Young John Robertson could play either out wide or up front, but we reckon he will be out on loan again.

St Johnstone

St Mirren

Richard Tait is already proving a good signing for St Mirren due to his versatility, but unfortunately for Jim Goodwin, he can’t clone him. We’ve got him at left-back here, but Ryan Flynn is still out injured for the start of the season, so unless they make a signing soon, the opening day will see someone else fill in at full-back. At least Tait provides comfort in the fact they can sign someone for either side and he will take the other.

The midfield doesn’t have much depth to begin with, and centre-back is probably lacking another body as well, and even though Joe Shaughnessy can play right-back, they again can’t clone him either.

Up front, we’ve all seen how good Obika can do, and Morias can team up with him to provide a lively front two, but with two young lads as back-up Jim Goodwin could be tempted to look for another striker as well.

St Mirren could very well be the busiest team of them all between now the the close of the window, but they’ll likely have to make use of their versatile squad once again.

St Mirren

What transfers do you recommend for these teams, let us know on Twitter – @NE98FT

5 players with specific reasons they NEED a good 20/21 season

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

Leight Griffiths - Glasgow Times
Glasgow Times

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

Ali McCann - The Herald
The Herald

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

Ryan Hedges - Newsline Media
Newsline Media

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

Robby McCrorie - SNS
SNS

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 - The Scotsman
The Scotsman

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.

Scotland’s ‘Future XI’

NE98 writer Keiran Fleming has put together this potential Scotland future XI, looking at some of the most promising uncapped players that could pull on the Scotland top in the future, could a squad including these players as well as some of the younger few in the current crop get us to a major tournament? 

 

Goalkeeper- Robby McCrorie

Robby McCrorie - SNS
SNS

Ayrshire born Robby McCrorie was signed by Rangers at the age of 14 and he has been making a name for himself over the last five years. McCrorie was loaned out to League 2 side Berwick Rangers in December 2017 for the rest of the season. Whilst on loan the keeper really impressed making 42 appearances and keeping eight clean sheets. He went on to win the club’s player of the year. At the end of the season he was called up to the under 21 Scotland squad. 

McCrorie would spend the second half of the 2018-19 season on loan to Greenock Morton where he again had an impressive season. Due to his good performances for Morton the keeper was loaned to the Championship again at the beginning of this season this time to Queen of the South. McCrorie impressed again so much that he was controversially recalled in January. The keeper played 34 times in the 2nd tier keeping 11 clean sheets. It seems to be that he was recalled just to be loaned out again this time to a better team. Livingston snapped him up and he has been impressive during his short stint in the Premiership. The keeper has recently signed a new contract and he is set to spend another season on loan at Livi. Once he returns McCrorie should really expect to challenge for the number one shirt at Ibrox.

Left Back- Aaron Hickey

Hickey is by far one of the hottest prospects Scottish football has had in a long time. The left back played 30 times for the Jambos last season and he was considered to be the bright spark in a relegation bound team. The youngster can play in every position across the back four, this type of versatility means that he can adjust to multiple tactical formations. Hickey played for Celtic’s youth academy for just a year before being released however after returning to Hearts he proved that he was more than capable to play at the highest level of scottish football.

Aaron Hickey
BBC

His impressive performances have attracted the eyes of some of Europe’s biggest clubs such as Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Celtic have also been linked with the recently turned 18-year-old. Hickey only has a year left on his contract and it is very unlikely that he will sign a new contract  so Hearts should cash in on one of their biggest assets now.

Centre Back- Liam Morrison

The former Celtic youth prospect has already grabbed headlines over the last year for his exciting transfer to Bayern Munich. The youngster is seen as one of the best centre backs in his age group. Morrison was linked with a multitude of other clubs including Hoffeinheim however the thought of joining one of the best football academies in the world was too good an opportunity to pass on.

Liam Morrison
Daily Mail

The 17-year-old is the very definition of a modern Centre Back combining his defensive abilities with his passing expertise. He is highly regarded in the Bavarian youth setup and is currently learning from the likes of World Cup record goalscorer Miroslav Klose and Bundesliga and Premier League winner Martin Demichelis. Morrison was also recently appointed captain of the Scotland under 17 side, this captaincy will most likely continue into the under 19 side where he will no doubt be a mainstay. The young Centre Back hopes to break into the first team within the next three years but his main goal is to become the best defender in the world.

Centre Back- Jamie Hamilton

The Hamilton graduate burst onto the scene this year playing 14 times for the Accies. Even though his time in the first team has been plagued with indiscipline, he has been shown three red cards this season, the centre back has still managed to impress. The 18-year-old has attracted attention from a few clubs across the border. Brighton are the team who have consistently been linked with a move for Hamilton in the last year. It looks as though he may spend at least another six months with the Accies due to Brighton being distracted by their current relegation battle.

Jamie Hamilton - SNS
SNS

 

The center back has shown his leadership skills at a national level captaining both the Scotland under 17s and under 19s. It is likely that Hamilton will spend another season in Scotland where he can hopefully iron out his discipline issues before he makes the move across the border to fulfill his potential.

Right Back- Harrison Ashby

Harrison Ashby could potentially be the answer to Scotland’s right back problem. He has been a mainstay in West Ham’s under 18s since 2017. Ashby made his debut for Scotland under 19s last year and he continued to be called up to the squad throughout the season. The attacking full back also made his first appearance for West Ham’s under 23s this season.

Harrison Ashby - West Ham
West Ham United

The 18-year-old just signed his first professional contract for the Hammers this summer showing that he is a highly thought of prospect. He will no doubt spend another season developing with the youth teams but the right back will hopefully be in the mix to get some minutes during cup games against sides from the lower divisions. After another season as part of a youth development squad Ashby would either have to push to be a squad player for the London side or go out on loan to get some competitive experience. Competitive experience in the next year or so is crucial if Ashby is to develop into Scotland’s starting right back in the next 5 years.

Centre Midfield- Lewis Ferguson

Lewis Ferguson impressed as soon as he arrived at Pittodrie in 2018. He quickly became one of the first names on the Dons team sheet in his first year at the club and he has consistently been part of Derek McInnes’ starting eleven ever since. The Hamilton academy graduate has shown over the last two years that he has the potential to be a huge player for Scotland’s international team. The 20-year-old has showcased both his passing ability and his defensive capabilities throughout his career so far.

Lewis Ferguson - SNS
SNS

Fergurson was awarded for his quality performances last season with the SFWA Young Player of the Year. As you can imagine with Ferguson being a key player for the Dons over the last two years he has caught the eye of clubs on both sides of the border. In Scotland the young midfielder has been heavily linked with a move to Rangers which makes sense considering Ferguson was a huge fan of the Ibrox side growing up. A move down south could be more interesting however, with Premier League side Burnley keeping a close eye on the under 21 international. Ferguson’s style of play would be a fantastic fit for Sean Dyche’s Burnley but the midfielder could flourish in a majority of the English Premier League’s lower tier teams. It was also rumored that Crystal Palace looked at him while he was with Hamilton Accies.  Another year under McInnes’ watch won’t do Ferguson any harm but it is extremely likely that he will move away from Pittodrie at some point in the next few years.

Centre Midfielder- Billy Gilmour

Gilmour is likely to make the step into the Scotland senior set up within the next year and it is thoroughly deserved. The midfielder has impressed in most of his 11 appearances for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. The 19-year-old became somewhat of a squad player at the turn of the year and he started to get more game time during the restart of the Premier League. Gilmour impressed fans and pundits alike with his offensive play and defensive awareness.

Billy Gilmour - AFP Via Getty Images
AFP Via Getty Images

Sadly the former Rangers youth player had to undergo knee surgery recently which means that he could be out for four months. The European Golden boy nominee will likely continue to be a squad player next season but he will no doubt receive even more first team football. In the next 10 years it is almost a certainty that Gilmour will become the face of the Scotland national team whilst also plying his trade on the biggest stages in club football. Hopefully in the next two years he can become a consistent starter for Chelsea whilst also forcing his way into the Scotland team.

Center Midfielder- Chris Mochrie

Mochrie is one of the hottest young prospects to come through Dundee United’s academy in years. He is the youngest debutant ever for the Arabs, he came on against Morton at the age of 16 years and 27 days. The midfielder has continued to showcase his talents with the developmental sides and he has also impressed whilst training with the first team. The introduction of new manager Micky Mellon could be fantastic for Mochrie due to Mellon’s preference to blood young players into the first team.

Chris Mochrie - Dundee United
Dundee United

The 17-year-old may expect to play a bit part role next season however it wouldn’t be surprising if he managed to force his way into a squad player role. Mochrie has consistently made appearances for Scotland’s under 16 and under 17 sides for the past two years. Due to Mochrie’s young age United should be able to keep hold of him for the next three years however there is a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the young attacking midfielder. There is a lot of untapped raw potential in Mochrie and hopefully he can live up to the hype. Mochrie could be a fantastic attacking threat in a midfield three with Ferguson and Gilmour in the future.

Right Winger- Karamoko Dembele

This is quite a controversial pick due to the fact that he declared that he wanted to play for England’s under 17 side last year however there is still a chance that Dembele can commit to Scotland. Dembele burst onto the scene when he made his debut for Celtic’s under 20s at the age of just 13. The winger has played twice for the first team whilst he was 16-years-old. He has made consistent appearances for both England and Scotland’s from under 15 to under 17 level.

Karamoko Dembele - Ian MacCall-Getty Images
Ian McCall/Getty Images

The wonderkid has been linked with moves to the football giants of Europe such as Arsenal, PSG and Juventus. Dembele made very little impact last year however this year could potentially be his breakthrough season with Neil Lennon ready to give the hot prospect a run with the first team. Although he is still very young, getting a player with the talent that Dembele possesses to commit to the Scottish national set up is crucial when it comes to securing a successful future for the national team. Considering the wealth of promising young attacking talent that England already have, Dembele might change his mind again to ensure he gets plenty international game time throughout his career.

Center Forward- James Scott

James Scott is a Motherwell youth graduate who impressed so much in the first half of last season that Hull City were willing to part with £1.5 million for the striker. Unluckily for Scott the English Championship was suspended as soon as he arrived in Hull. This doesn’t seem to have stunted his development as a player because since the restart he has proven to be a fantastic forward option for the Tigers. In his first five appearances in England’s second tier he has scored once but the fact that the 19-year-old is consistently playing for Hull can only be a good thing for Scotland.

James Scott - Hull Live
Hull Live

There is a desperate need for a young and upcoming striker in Scotland and Scott definitely fits the bill. If the end of this season is anything to go by Scott can probably expect to be pushing for a starting position at the KCOM Stadium next year. He has only made a solitary appearance for Scotland’s under 21 side but it is pretty likely that he can expect even more call ups to the under 21s. 

Left Winger-  Kai Kennedy

Kennedy has been hotly tipped to break into Rangers first team next season by a lot of the coaching staff at the club. Steven Gerrard himself has said Kennedy will be part of his plans in the 2020/21 season. Although recent unconfirmed rumors suggest Kennedy could be leaving Iborx. These range from the club telling him to leave, to the youngster looking at bigger teams across Europe, so it’s anyone’s guess.

Kai Kennedy - Daily Record
Daily Record

His impressive performances for the developmental side and Scotlands under 19s have caught the eyes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich who are apparently hoping to pick up the winger for free after his contract expires next year. The 18-year-old is also held in the highest regard in Scotland’s national set up where they see Kennedy as a future international star. It will be interesting to see how the young winger copes with the pressure being put on him by both Rangers and the SFA. The fact that he has only one year left on his contract also adds a bit of excitement for the next year. If he has a fantastic breakout season he will have his pick of the elite clubs in Europe to go to. If Kennedy continues to improve and develop he could become one of the key members of Scotland’s frontline in the future.

What do you think of these choices? Got your own wonderkid to recommend? Tell us on Twitter @NE98FT

Interview: Darvel Manager Michael Kennedy

We recently caught up with Darvel manager Michael Kennedy to speak about the buzz around the club’s recent signings and much more. You can listen to Kennedy’s full interview with Lewis Michie below, or read it further down the page:

Twitter was buzzing this weekend with debate around the signings Darvel have been making as of late. They’ve just gained promotion to the Premier Division of the West of Scotland League – one tier down from the Lowland League.

However, they’ve added Ian McShane from Falkirk, left-back Jordan Allan from Stranraer and Jordan Kirkpatrick comes in from Forfar Athletic.

Kennedy says it was mostly positive and they aren’t too worried about any negative reaction:

“When we started to look at recruitment back round about December, January, we always knew there’d be a few names in there that could cause an uproar. Positive as well to be fair, I think 90% of the reaction has been positive.”

We also spoke to the Darvel gaffer about the type of signings the club have looked to get, why they’ve targeted the players they have, and if more incomings are possible:

“We are trying to bring players in from a level above, in the prime age of their career. I wasn’t really expecting the reaction we’ve had over the last few days.

If you look at the recruitment so far – even the boys we’ve brought in from this level as well – all really gifted football players who’ve had impressive careers to this point. One of the important things is their age, we are always really cautious that we set out a robust recruitment plan – we wanted to build a squad that is capable of staying together for a few years.

I think there is maybe potentially room for one or two others. Right now we are fairly settled, we’ve spoken to one or two targets that obviously didn’t work out. Unfortunately there is a lot of uncertainty for part-time footballers right now, and maybe in the next three-four weeks we will have a better idea landscape-wise.”

While structural change has been impossible in the SPFL in recent years, a lot is changing directly below the pyramid. The Lowland League now has promotion and relegation, linking to the new West of Scotland and East of Scotland set-ups, made up of former Junior teams.

Kennedy feels these changes have benefited the game overall:

“The difference now with the new league structure is when you’re sitting down with players and discussing a vision then they can see a bit of a journey. We can now maybe go through a couple of leagues. That’s an important part in selling the club.”

Of course Darvel are one of the club’s benefiting from these changes the most, moving up a division already, and many are now tipping them to gain promotion to the Lowland League this year, and according to Kennedy, that’s what they hope to do:

“There was a three year plan always in place when I came in. The plan this year is ultimately to try and win the division and progress in to the Lowland League. Everyone is aware how difficult that could be with the quality of the opposition but that’s the aspiration.”

Darvel, just like many other clubs, still don’t know when their 20/21 season will kick-off. Nonetheless, it’s sure to be an interesting one from the club – NE98 wishes Michael and everyone at Darvel luck for the season, whenever it gets underway.

And if you feel like a trip to Ayrshire to have a look at the team everyone has their eyes on when the season does eventually get underway, what kind of football can you expect? Here’s what Kennedy told us:

“I think anybody that knows myself and has worked alongside me would tell you we look to set out to dominate the ball and set high demands for our players and expect high energy.”

Sassuolo: Part 2

We’ve been going back to take a look at the season so far for Serie A side Sassuolo. In Part One we looked up until the end of September, and now today we will recap October, November and December. 

Form

Roberto De Zerbi’s side started the season very much sitting in mid-table, showing inconsistent results – with plenty of goals at both ends. By the end of 2019 things looked pretty similar for the Neroverdi as they sat in 13th place, 10 points away from any European places, and 5 clear of the relegation zone.

Sassuolo results 2

In the last three months of the year they had 3 wins, 4 draws and 4 loses (the final 2-1 loss to Napoli not included in screenshot).

17 goals conceded in that time shows the defensive issues in the first half of the season for Sassuolo. For the season as a whole at this point they’d let in 29 goals, with two other sides also conceding the same amount and two other teams allowing more. So a relegation battle esc defense, but only six other sides had scored more goals than  Sassuolo’s 29 scored – the same six teams who also occupied every European spot.

The Manager – Roberto De Zerbi

Having not known a whole lot about Roberto De Zerbi before this, we’ve started with a clean slate. In a word, De Zerbi is ‘flexible’ – and that’s both positive and negative.

He is able to adapt his tactics and formation to fit certain situations, like a different opponent or the changing landscape throughout a game.

Roberto De Zerbi
Global Sport

However, he also chops and changes the team – often without much reason – to a frustrating amount. At different points in the season it becomes clear certain players are working and others aren’t, but in the case of someone like Jeremie Boga it took his manager a while to begin to trust him with consistent starts. While persisting with Gregoire Defrel who was not producing.

Even by the end of 2019 De Zerbi has tried four different players in the left-back position, unable to pick a favorite. The likes of Hamed Junior Traore, Filip Djuricic and Manuel Loccatelli have impressed when given time but continue to not consistently get minutes, be dropped after a decent performance and be replaced by the likes of Mehdi Bourabia, Pedro Obiang and Alfred Duncan all of whom have not shown as much talent since the beginning of the season.

While it does not seem at this point there is even one suitable centre-half at the club, nevermind two, it doesn’t help that the manager continues to rotate between five players in that area. Allowing two players to adept to find a partnership would be a better bet at this point.

Goalkeeper 

Andrea Consigli is the obvious first choice in the team. He doesn’t stand out as being exceptional, but he also isn’t a liability. Towards the end of 2019 an injury to Consigli allowed some game time for 18-year-old Stefano Turati and 39-year-old Gianluca Pegolo.

Turati had a fantastic performance against Juventus, but did make a goal costing mistake in the next fixture, but he still seems a potential future star.

Defenders 

Right-back at this point is nailed down by Dortmund loanee Jeremy Toljan, he’s got a lot to offer going forward and the right side is far less often the source of dangerous attacks. 21-year-old Mert Mulder is playing the back-up, but at such a young age does look promising.

Centre-back continues to jump between the likes of Vlad Chiriches, Marlon, Gian Marco Ferrari, Filippo Romagna and occasionally Federico Peluso. No one sticks out as being particularly impressive, but giving a partnership a chance to blossom with consistent game time would be the best bet, two of Marlon, Romagna and Ferrari would probably be our choice.

Federico Peluso started off as the first choice left-back when the season began, but he was often caught out. De Zerbi had 22-year-old Brazilian Regerio, Georgios Kyriakopoulos and young Italian Alessandro Tripaldelli to pick from to replace him. He’s jumped between them all, and at this point doesn’t seem any closer to finding a full-time preference. Kyriakopoulos is the most impressive so far, but sticking with any of the three would produce better results than never letting anyone settle.

Midfielders

Switching between a 4-3-3 and 4-3-2-1 has produced a bit of variety in the centre of the field. Often the same players can be used in both systems, just obviously switching up their roles a bit.

Captain Francesco Magnanelli returned to fitness in October. At 35, he’s not the most mobile but he does bring some control, patience and balance to an area which is often surrounded by players far younger than him.

20-year-old Traore, Serbian  Djuricic and Ex Ac Milan player Locatelli are all interesting players to have in the centre of the field, and while it would be interesting to see all three play together, that would potentially leave an already lacking defense exposed, so Magananelli is important for balance.

Pedro Obiang and Alfred Duncan also still have on-and-off appearances for Sassuolo, but as the games go on it becomes apparent the other three are producing better performances.

Djuricic and Traore are both fairly attacking intent players. The younger Traore is quicker and dribbles more often, while 28-year-old Djuricic is more of a threat from shots around the area. Both are versatile and can play as a ’10’ or slightly deeper, and both are far more creative and cultured with their passing than other midfielder in the squad.

Locatelli takes a deeper position than the other two, but he’s a bit of an all rounder. His passing range is very good, he covers a lot of ground and can pick his moments to get further forward than his usual. He could do with getting a bit more involved with tackling, especially if playing in a team without the caution of Maganelli.

Forwards

After a frustrating beginning to the season where ex-Chelsea winger Jeremie Boga couldn’t get consistent game time, despite obvious talent, he’s become one of the key figures in the side.

Boga, at 23 years old, appears to have real ability to become a top player. Despite only really having three proper first team seasons up until this point, with loans of varying success at Granada, Stade Rennais and Birmingham City, Boga shows not just talent, but importantly an end product and consistency.

Without a doubt, Boga’s ability to throw a game into life with direct running, and incredibly quick feet, is his best trait. He’s able to on a consistent basis end these runs with a shot on goal or a cross, rather than dribbling for the sake of it, he does it with a real purpose.

Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo are normally the other two parts of the front three, and both also look quite convincing. Berardi is still the biggest star at Sassuolo and  despite injuries he had a productive first half of the season, but probably not quite up to his high standards. Caputo is a reliable striker in his early 30’s, picking up poacher style goals and utilising his hold up play.

Forecast for the rest of the season

For the Neroverdi to properly kick on for the season past the turn of the year they’d clearly need to improve the backline. The January transfer window could be a big opportunity to do that, and a back up striker could be of use as well.

It’s unlikely they’ll challenge for Europe but they need some solid results in January to pull away from any potential relegation battle.

In the next update we will look at all of the games from the new year up until the season was interrupted due to covid-19.

Before finally covering all the post-break games at the end of the season.