Aberdeen: Four key questions facing Pittodrie side this summer
|Scottish Premiership: Aberdeen v Hearts|
|Venue: Pittodrie Date: Friday, 10 May Time: 19:45 BST|
|Coverage: Listen to BBC Radio Scotland and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport Scotland website|
For the first time since 2014, Aberdeen will finish outside the top two in the Scottish Premiership this season. They have a fight on their hands to guarantee Europa League football for a sixth consecutive campaign. And several of the squad's key players are set to leave in the summer,
Derek McInnes says it is "absolutely" the biggest rebuild he has faced in his six years at the club. The manager and assistant Tony Docherty are entering the final year of their current contracts, too as the Pittodrie club begin what promised to be a period of flux.
But what are the key questions facing McInnes and Aberdeen this summer?
How do they replace stalwarts?
Captain Graeme Shinnie has signed a pre-contract with Derby County and Gary Mackay-Steven's deal also expires this summer. Loan signings Greg Stewart, James Wilson, Max Lowe, Dominic Ball and Tommie Hoban will also depart, though Ball could yet make his stay at Pittodrie permanent.
These players have featured over 200 times between them for Aberdeen this season so defence, midfield and attack will be affected. The bonus is that those departing will be among the highest earners, so there will be a significant amount of funds to play with in terms of wages.
How they replace Shinnie will be pivotal, given his energy and drive from midfield sets the tone for the team. The midfielder has only missed five matches in the last two seasons, and Aberdeen have lost each of them. The side will also need new full-backs to provide, at the very least, cover for Andrew Considine and Shay Logan, while some attacking flair to complement the goalscoring exploits of Sam Cosgrove would not go amiss.
McInnes has gone on record as saying he missed out on the permanent signing of Celtic's Ryan Christie last summer, and a similar creative player in the centre of the pitch is required along with a couple of wingers who can pitch in with goals and assists.
"It's easy to get downhearted and dispirited when you lose player after player all the time," the manager said on Thursday. "But the nature of my job and the board's job is to make sure we stay competitive on the pitch. As difficult and challenging as that is, that is the job. We'll try and be active, make good signings in the summer."
Do they cash in on McKenna?
In Scottish football terms, Aberdeen's budget is not insignificant. However, with a new stadium and training ground costing an estimated £50m to construct, the club could do with some fresh funds to help with a sizeable rebuild of the squad.
McInnes says they "don't have money to throw" at signings but defender Scott McKenna is the most valuable playing asset at Pittodrie, with the club having already turned down multi-million pound bids from Celtic, Stoke and Aston Villa for the Scotland international.
Would further offers this summer tempt them to cash in on the 22-year-old? Any fee received could be reinvested in the squad, though another key player departing might be too difficult to stomach.
Is it time to have more faith in youth?
One positive to emerge in a season afflicted by injuries to key personnel is the emergence of some promising talent from the club's academy. Winger Connor McLennan has made 26 appearances, scoring four goals. Likewise, central midfielder Dean Campbell has looked assured beyond his 18 years, particularly at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup quarter-final replay win over Rangers.
Scott Wright and Bruce Anderson have also had fruitful loan spells at Dundee and Dunfermline Athletic respectively during the second half of the season, and the latter scored crucial goals against Rangers and Kilmarnock before his switch to Fife in January. Perhaps if these players are given even more first-team action next season they burnish the squad.
Will McInnes stay on?
McInnes has been at Pittodrie for six years now and has overseen a period of success. Aberdeen were consistently a bottom-six side in the years immediately preceding his arrival, but the 47-year-old led them to third place in his first season, followed by four consecutive second-place finishes, as well as winning the League Cup in 2014.
He has already rejected the advances of Sunderland and Rangers, but with just a year left on his contract, McInnes may fancy a fresh challenge rather than rolling his sleeves up and going again in the north east. His name is in the frame for the vacant Scotland manager's position, while his former club West Brom are also looking for a permanent manager.
However, McInnes continues to talk as if he intends to get on with the job of making Aberdeen competitive at the top end of Scottish football. "It's inevitable that when you lose a lot of key players, the culmination of that makes this one a lot more of a challenge but it's a challenge we're going to meet head-on," he said.
"With the support of the board we feel confident we can recruit players to come in and make us a competitive squad as we always have been."