Dundee United: A big three weeks for Jack Ross - up to 8 new additions required, Doidge factor, Levitt return

New Dundee United boss Jack Ross probably didn’t need the players returning to pre-season training to know he had work to do in the transfer market.

In fact, the day after being announced he admitted as such.

"A lot of work to undertake in a short period of time,” Ross said. “We are playing catch-up a little bit.”

That work the former Hibs and Sunderland boss talked of is currently being undertaken. The good news for United is, thanks to their fourth-place finish in the Premiership and European qualification, they are not back in competitive action until July 30, when the Scottish Premiership season gets under way.

That gives the Tangerines over three weeks to put some pieces in place prior to the trip to Premiership new boys Kilmarnock and the first European tie in the Conference League third qualifying round a matter of days later.

The key phrase is “a lot”. United require around seven or eight new additions, including a goalkeeper to replace Benjamin Siegrist, with Zander Clark at the top of a shortlist.

Striking a balance

The club's fans may want more, while the team’s young players looking for minutes may well want fewer. The last thing the club will want, having worked so hard with their academy, is to stunt any growth and block progression. Yet, with an average age of 23.5, United are lacking players in the 24-28 age range. It is about finding a balance and creating an environment where the best young talent can earn plenty of minutes rather than have a raft of teenagers get a few minutes here and there.

Jack Ross was appointed Dundee United boss last month. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

It is rare you come into a club where the new manager is looking to build from a position of strength rather than a team at a low ebb which has prompted a managerial departure. Ross is in the former position.

In an in-house interview, he was asked about an area of the team he was impressed with and an area which required improvement. He tied both answers up in one. He spoke of the resilience amongst the players and the defensive record which owed to their league placing as the number of goals scored (37) very rarely translates to a top-four finish.

Therefore, the area of the team which needs the most TLC is in the final third.

Tony Watt has proven at Motherwell he can score goals and has demonstrated that he offers plenty of good, intelligent work outside the box. But he needs a foil to work off so he can move with freedom rather than restriction. Nicky Clark is a good squad player but like Watt does a lot of his most useful work outside the box.

Dundee United hope to re-sign Dylan Levitt. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

Doidge-ball

Ross has been strongly linked with a move for a player he has worked with previously in Hibs striker Christian Doidge. The United boss is keen to work with players he has done before and you get the rationale. He knows not only the skillset the player possesses but personality and attitude.

Last season wasn’t a good one for Doidge. Injury saw him miss a large chunk of the season and he fell down the pecking order once Ross had been replaced by Shaun Maloney. Going back a year previous and while his combined nine goals and assists were the same as Clark at United, he acted as a hugely effective facilitator for Martin Boyle and Kevin Nisbet who both hit double figures.

He had the highest number of touches inside the opposition penalty box for a non-Old Firm player and competed for the second highest aerial duels. He occupies defenders and works within the width of the box, comfortable taking the ball in and linking play. He is the perfect Premiership focal point.

Christian Doidge would provide United with a focal point. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Ross was somewhat irked by the notion that he was a defensive-minded manager, pointing to the fact in more than half of his games at Hibs the team scored two or more goals.

System options

It is easy to look at United’s goal tallies across the past two league campaigns and surmise a striker is required. The team needs a greater depth of creativity. There are plenty of youthful attacking options in the squad but it is rare for a teenager to produce the level of consistency required over a season. You look at Ryan Gauld. Even he tailed off in his breakthrough campaign.

A forward-thinking central midfielder who could play as a No 10 or a progressive No 8 would be very welcome. Especially if his name is Dylan Levitt. Giving what he produced last season on loan from Man Utd, it would be fascinating to see him play higher up the park in a team which plays higher up the park. You can see he is such a capable player on the ball who can score goals. There is no doubt he can be a creative spark to play through in the final third also.

In addition a wide player, especially if the system changes to a 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1, is also an area which could do with more competition.

Defensively, Ross may look to replace Lewis Neilson, who would have been earmarked for more game-time this campaign. There could be more options on the left added. James Maxwell is available on a free and performed well in the Championship. It would give Scott McMann competition, while allowing for the former Accies defender to be an option on the left of a back three.

In front of the defence, a midfielder to protect and give the team a base to play from, freeing up the likes of Ian Harkes and Levitt, if he returns, is certainly required. There is no such profile of player in the squad, especially with the uncertainty around Calum Butcher’s future after he didn't feature at the end of last season due to a “private matter”.

There may well be a lot of work to do for Ross, but he is doing so with a strong foundation already in place.

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