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A look at Dundee United’s options for Championship opener this weekend

Robbie Neilson during training.
Robbie Neilson during training.

Being a manager who prepares meticulously for every game, it’s a safe bet Dundee United boss Robbie Neilson already knows his starting line-up for Saturday’s Championship opener against Inverness Caley Thistle.

Of course, we won’t know what his thoughts on that are until an hour before kick-off at Tannadice.

And while Arabs who’ve been following the team closely since the start of pre-season will have a fair idea of most of the names on the team sheet, there are two or three areas the manager will have had to give a lot of thought to.

Robbie Neilson during training.

Although United’s spending power means Neilson has cover for every position the friendlies and Betfred Cup games over the past few weeks have given a pretty clear indication of what he regards as he strongest side – almost.

Starting from the back, that Benjamin Siegrist will be in goal against ICT is a given.

In one Betfred outing and a couple of friendlies, the returning Deniz Mehmet has shown himself to be a more-than-able deputy and if Siegrist was to suffer a loss of form or injury, there would be no worries about him stepping up.

Siegrist’s form toward the end of last season and in his games so far, though, mean he is a certainty to start the league campaign as No 1 – and rightly so.

Siegrist is almost certain to start between the sticks for United.

Likewise at right-back, summer signing Liam Smith is nailed on to make his Championship debut in this one. The manager fought hard to get him and, if Ayr United had been willing to do business, would have signed him in January.

Smith fits the attacking profile Neilson wants of his full-backs and has done enough in his early games to suggest he’ll be both a regular starter and an important player in the months to come.

Next to him, the names of skipper Mark Reynolds and Mark Connolly could be written in indelible ink on the team lines.

They’ve been the first choice partnership in the middle of the defence since the beginning of February and, so long as they are fit and available, that will continue to be the case this term.

The first big question regarding Saturday comes at left-back. Argentine Adrian Sporle was brought in to play there but his outings so far have shown he’ll need time to adjust to Scottish football.

Adrian Sporle has to contend with Jamie Robson for the spot at left-back. 

That and the form of Jamie Robson suggests the Scot could get the nod, at least for the early weeks of the season.

In midfield, Paul McMullan will surely start wide on the right and, if he needs to sharpen up on his delivery, his direct running and ability to go past defenders makes him another key man.

In the middle Calum Butcher’s strength and experience means he’s sure of his place and beside him will be Sam Stanton or Ian Harkes, both of whom the manager knows he can rely on.

Right now the front places, whether it’s as two out-and-out strikers or one up top and the other slightly withdrawn, are also easy to predict.

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That will go to Nicky Clark and marquee signing Lawrence Shankland. Clark’s habit of getting important goals makes him valuable and Shankland has done enough in his short time at the club to show he can be the main supply of goals this season.

With Peter Pawlett and Osman Sow both nearing fitness again, the attacking options should increase in the next couple of weeks or so and, once that’s the case, the manager’s job in selecting a team will be more difficult.

He also knows he can now call on the young trio of Louis Appere, Scott Banks and Logan Chalmers.

Logan Chalmers is one of the youngsters Robbie Neilson could call on.

They’ve all shown they are ready to play a part at first-team level but, right now, there is no need to throw them in.

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