McInnes needs to find solution to Aberdeen's form slump

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Shay Logan (left) and Jonny Hayes
Aberdeen have went from eight wins in a row to four consecutive defeats

The intrigues of the Premiership season are becoming established.

With the first quarter of the league campaign having been completed at the weekend, the table is beginning to settle into a familiar-looking format.

It was widely expected, after all, that Celtic would eventually return to the top this season. Even so, the nature of Aberdeen's challenge is less predictable. That inconsistency is, in itself, a bewildering drama.

Derek McInnes steered his side to eight straight victories at the outset of the campaign, but Aberdeen have since lost three times in a row in the league, and been knocked out of the Scottish League Cup by Hibernian. For a team that had been so resolute, strong and assertive, the faltering has been eye-catching.

Supporters' minds will jostle with explanations, mostly based on preconceptions, but it is the manager's job to identify and solve the issues that have suddenly beset his team.

Social media has created an environment of boundless speculation and rumour, a world that has infuriated the Aberdeen manager, but in reality it is mundane matters that need to be addressed. McInnes has been making changes to his side, and rhythm and momentum have been lost, while there is a psychological challenge to being league leaders that players need to adapt to.

It is the defensive uncertainties that are most damaging. Aberdeen only conceded three goals during their eight consecutive wins, but have conceded nine in their last three league games.

McInnes assembled a squad with strength in depth, so alterations to the starting line-up shouldn't be disruptive, but senior players must recover their nerve and reliability. The manager will have to rely on his authority and shrewdness to find the means to carry that out. He is well-equipped to cope.

County's steady progress

Losing 2-0 on Friday night at Ross County will have particularly pained McInnes, since the Aberdeen manager spent the international break working intently with his players, but the continuing progress of the Dingwall side is further evidence of the solid, impressive work being carried out by Jim McIntyre and Billy Dodds.

Ross County's Brian Graham (left)
Ross County are now sitting fourth in the Scottish Premiership

Ross County ought to be praised for their resurgence, which has lifted them to fourth in the table and reminded again of the worth of organisation, industry and players being encouraged to thrive.

McIntyre has built a decent squad of players whose abilities he understands and can rely on. There is competition for places - County have four first-team strikers - but also versatility.

Room is made for a maverick talent, too, like Liam Boyce, who might have made the scoreline more emphatic against Aberdeen if his instincts did not go awry at the wrong times.

Under McIntyre, County have regrouped and made steady progress. There will be no need in January, for instance, for the annual hurry to the transfer market to sign players on short-term deals to try to rescue the campaign.

That kind of stability tends to be rewarded at clubs, and County have become a reliably effective side.

Paatelainen's task laid bare

The new Dundee United manager was typically competitive and forthright on the touchline at Tannadice. Decisions made during the 1-0 defeat to Hearts, by officials and his own players, tended to uncork that ferocious spirit that has underpinned all of Mixu Paatelainen's work in football.

Paatelainen has been blunt about the situation at Tannadice, acknowledging that the club is now in a fight against relegation, but he can only win it by solving the flaws in his team.

The missing quality this season has been experience, an element of the kind of streetwise nature that would have allowed a team of talented youngsters manage difficult periods in games and secure points that would have kept them higher up the table.

Dundee United manager Mixu Paatelainen
Dundee United manager Mixu Paatelainen took over at Tannadice with the club at the bottom of the table

That kind of nous is earned in the hard yards of a career, so Paatelainen can only impose order and instructions on his team until the January transfer window, funds allowing, provides an opportunity to sign one or two time-served players for the spine of his side.

United need to become more difficult to score against - they have conceded the most Premiership goals - and there was an element of resourcefulness when he fielded John Souttar, a player of raw talent but lacking the particular skills demanded of a centre-back or a midfielder.

There is a growing reliance on Billy McKay to provide the team's cutting edge. The Northern Irishman has form for regular goalscoring, and the added motivation of a place in his country's Euro 2016 squad to earn, but he likes to play off the shoulder of defenders and run in behind, while Paatelainen wants his team to build attacks through possession.

The manager urges his goalkeeper to distribute the ball short, but that created pressure on his defenders on Sunday. The onus, for now, is to be pragmatic and build a solid, uncompromising team.

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