Dundee United begin their Premiership campaign with a blockbuster New Firm clash in Aberdeen and, as is always the way at Tannadice, there are reasons for cheer, concern and debate.
The intriguing uncertainty of Tam Courts’ first season as a top-flight manager; the protracted search for reinforcements; the prospect of Logan Chalmers lighting up the league — those are the tip of the iceberg.
Here, Courier Sport takes an in-depth look at some of the key talking points ahead of United’s tilt at the Premiership’s top-six.
Proof in the pudding for Tam Courts
The rumblings of discontent following Courts’ appointment have faded into the distance, but for the odd howl of annoyance when Elgin City take a shock lead at Tannadice or East Fife are proving a tough nut to crack.
There is an acceptance that the former Kelty Hearts gaffer is the man in the big chair and it is time to get behind the team. So far, Courts could have done little more — four wins from four and a place in the Premier Sports Cup last-16.
But Courts’ real yardstick will come in the Premiership. How his United side performs will be one of the most fascinating aspects of the SPFL season, let alone United’s campaign.
Fail, and ‘I told you so’ will echo around the City of Discovery. Succeed, and Courts may just usher in a new willingness for clubs to look internally for candidates and eschew the age-old assumption that years of experience is a necessary commodity.
Courts has already brought in Liam Fox as his number two, while goalkeeping coach Neil Alexander has been replaced by Tony Caig. He has his own people in place; his own philosophies; his own ideas — and in the coming season, he’ll live or die by them.
Dundee United need to bolster their ranks. The fans know that and — for all the frustration regarding the perceived stasis — those in the Tannadice boardroom also know that.
United have made just two signings this summer: the vastly experienced former Scotland and Celtic defender Charlie Mulgrew, which could prove to be an inspired bit of business, and goalkeeper Trevor Carson.
But United need creativity and depth in the heart of midfield. In Jeando Fuchs, they have a tireless, tough-tackling, box-to-box asset in the engine room. Calum Butcher is a no-nonsense presence who breaks up attacks for fun.
However, some stardust is required alongside them, lest the Tangerines end up as stodgy as they were at times under Micky Mellon.
The departure of Marc McNulty also leaves a void in their attacking pool and, although Louis Appere remains on the books and hungry to make an impact, an experienced attacker to supplement Lawrence Shankland and Nicky Clark would be ideal.
Benjamin Siegrist’s future
So much can hinge on the vagaries of the transfer market — and that is certainly the case with Siegrist.
The club held admirably firm in their valuation of United’s 2020/21 player of the year in the face of interest from Ipswich Town and, as a consequence, the Tractor Boys sought to harvest a signing from elsewhere.
However, they are far from Siegrist’s only suitors and, with the player’s contract due to expire next summer, he would be available for a fair price; not the pittance some south of the border still seem to think is acceptable for talent in Scotland.
Trevor Carson, signed earlier this month, is a very able goalkeeper and will undoubtedly do a fine job between the sticks for United — but he is unlikely to make as many saves and win United as many points as the Swiss Wall did. Few could.
If, on the other hand, United hold on to Siegrist, it would be a statement of intent — as well as ensuring they have a sensational stopper between the sticks.
Tactics — and Charlie Mulgrew’s importance
Mulgrew’s signing was secured so early — before Scotland had even kicked a ball at Euro 2020 — that it is easy to overlook what a fine capture he is; quality, experience and a winning mentality.
Moreover, getting him in the door so swiftly has allowed him to settle into Courts’ preferred 3-4-3 system, to which he is integral.
Mulgrew, 35, is the playmaker in the back-line, able to step out, break the lines with passes and set the ball rolling — literally — for United attacks.
Cheeky set piece sees Charlie Mulgrew score his 1st Dundee United goal since returning… pic.twitter.com/35FwwlDnFb
— SHEDHEDS🗣️📢🧡🤍🖤 (@shedheds) July 17, 2021
His wand of a left-foot also brings a genuine set-piece threat (just ask Arbroath), whether attempting to bend one into the top-corner from 25 yards or seeking to put a cross on Ryan Edwards’ head from a wide position.
It’s hard to look beyond Logan Chalmers as Dundee United’s breakout star of the coming campaign.
The 21-year-old has already played 35 times for the senior side but saw his progress cruelly curtailed by an ankle injury last term, just as he was beginning to dazzle with his fancy footwork, direct running and youthful fearlessness.
The winger returned to full fitness towards the tail-end of the 2020/21 campaign and was a glistening silver lining as the season petered out in rather meek fashion.
United’s decision to hand Chalmers a new contract until the summer of 2024 earlier this month was a thundering endorsement of him talents. The Scotland under-21 international will be a pivotal player for Courts this term.
There are a plethora of gifted kids at Tannadice who, while not as far along in their development as Chalmers, will seek to grab the brass ring this term.
Kerr Smith is a precocious prospect and has the majority of the English premier League keeping an eye on his progress; Flynn Duffy is physical, confident full-back; Kieran Freeman was excellent in the Premier Sports Cup group phase and his versatility is a wonderful attribute.
And that’s just the defenders.
Flo Hoti, Chris Mochrie and, once back in action, Declan Glass are among those who could make their mark further up the park.