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Dundee United close season report card: Signings rated, Premiership prediction and who will be the star man?

United fans are buzzing for a new campaign
United fans are buzzing for a new campaign

Dundee United kick off their Premiership campaign against Kilmarnock on Saturday.

With the Tangerines embarking upon their Europa Conference League adventure just five days later, it is imperative they hit the ground running.

So, how do Jack Ross’ Terrors look, ahead of the real stuff starting at Rugby Park?

Transfer business

United’s focus has been on quality rather than quantity.

The Tangerines lost eight players — albeit Dylan Levitt has since returned — from the squad that secured fourth spot in the Premiership.

By contrast, just five players have entered through the doors of Tannadice Park.

Head coach Jack Ross has made it clear that he needs more options if the Terrors are to challenge in what is expected to be a vastly improved top-flight, while fighting for silverware.

Behich is United’s signing No5

With a month left to go in the transfer window, that depth will surely come. Reinforcements in the forward area remain a necessity.

However, United should be credited for the calibre of their captures.

Steven Fletcher needs no introduction following a career that has seen him rack up 33 caps for Scotland and turn out for the likes of Burnley, Wolves, Sunderland and Marseille.

Levitt’s return was pivotal, while Craig Sibbald brings an understated quality and valuable versatility to the ranks.

Australia internationalist Mark Birighitti was the reigning A-League goalkeeper of the year with Central Coast Mariners and compatriot Aziz Behich boasts 52 caps and played all three matches for the Socceroos at the 2018 World Cup. 

The age of the signings are 35, 31, 31, 27 and 21. While youth remains a key facet of United’s business plan, the group looks to possess far more experience this term as they embark on a domestic and European campaign.

What have learned in pre-season?

Much like the other Scottish participants who are yet to kick off their continental adventures — Celtic, Rangers and Hearts — it is hard to analyse the Tangerines’ progress.

Without the yardstick of a Premier Sports Cup group phase, it would be remiss to judge a team on friendlies.

However, Ross’ charges are yet to win. Bounce games at St Andrews against Falkirk and Northampton Town finished in a 3-2 defeat and 1-1 draw respectively. Defeats against Port Vale (1-0) in Spain, Sunderland at Tannadice (2-0) and Fleetwood Town (2-1) followed. 

Fletcher will be pivotal

During those fixtures, the new boss’ preference for a 4-3-3 formation has been clear, with the United faithful hopeful that will herald a more expansive, attacking style of football.

In the final of those friendlies against Fleetwood, Fletcher was outstanding. One obvious takeaway is that the veteran marksman will be the focal point, bringing the likes of Ian Harkes, Tony Watt and others into the game. When he is absent, it will be felt.

The new shape also begs a question regarding whether Ross Graham will remain an automatic starter, with Charlie Mulgrew so far preferred in the left centre-half role.

Mathew Cudjoe has arguably been the breakout star of pre-season. The Ghanaian wide man found the net against Falkirk, dazzled off the bench against Sunderland and was a standout against Fleetwood.

The former Bayern Munich may just have played his way into contention for a starting berth against Kilmarnock.

Who will be United’s star man?

Ryan Edwards will be the rock at the heart of defence, Fletcher is the No9 United have been crying out for and Tony Watt could be given a new lease of life alongside an experienced, intelligent strike-partner.

However, barring injury of misfortune, this can be Dylan Levitt’s campaign.

The Welsh playmaker feels settled and wanted — his future secure for the next two years — and has the additional motivation to book his place in the Wales squad for this winter’s World Cup in Qatar.

He concluded last term with a run of five goals in 13 outings, including absolute stunners against Celtic and Hearts, and there is no reason to think he will not carry that momentum in to the coming season.

Premiership prediction: 5th

There is every chance that United could be a better team under Ross’ charge this season — yet finish lower in the league. It is a peculiar juxtaposition stemming from a strange 2021/22 campaign.

Courts led United to fourth spot in his sole season in charge of the Tangerines

Both Aberdeen and Hibs were preposterously poor last season and, while the Edinburgh outfit were dire in the Premier Sports Cup group phase this term, the Dons have shown signs of recovery.

There has also been comparatively lavish spending in the Granite City, with incomings now totalling a seven-figure outlay — albeit clearly offset by the departures of Calvin Ramsey and Lewis Ferguson to Liverpool and Bologna.

If Aberdeen and Hearts are not battling for third this spot this term then something will have gone wrong at one, or both, of those clubs.

However, United are more than capable of retaining their place in the top six and, should they ally that with a cup run — a trip to Hampden would be most desirable — it would represent a solid season.