Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes has warned players could be left to “kick their heels” on the bench if they lose form.
Persistent injury problems meant McInnes was unable to freshen up his starting XI as much as he wanted last season.
However, following recent transfer window additions McInnes is confident there is strong competition in every position, allowing the option to drop players to the bench if needed.
Currently on a four-game winning streak, the Dons’ bench in the 1-0 defeat of Hibs underlined the squad depth.
Substitutes included £850,000 Venezuelan international Ronald Hernandez, Northern Ireland cap Niall McGinn, striker Curtis Main and experienced defenders Shay Logan and Ash Taylor.
Funso Ojo, Scotland cap Dylan McGeouch and Scotland U21 attacker Connor McLennan were also substitutes.
McInnes said: “This season we have got competition and players know if they are not performing well they will sit and kick their heels for a few games.
“It was a real challenge for us last season as we never got out the bit due to injuries.
“A lot of players needed to come out the team who couldn’t because they didn’t have the competition required.
“Last season I thought too many times players went back in through necessity rather than having earned it all the time.
“Injuries had a real impact on what we could do then, but now we are far more robust in most areas of the pitch.”
The depth of the squad is underlined by the imminent departure of Scotland international Craig Bryson.
After an injury-plagued spell the 33-year-old is on the verge of quitting Pittodrie and is involved in talks over the final nine months of his contract. Following the arrival of Ross McCrorie from Rangers, Bryson has fallen further down the pecking order in central midfield.
His exit is expected to be completed before Saturday’s home clash with Kilmarnock.
The foresight of McInnes and the Pittodrie board to secure players on long-term contracts proved particularly valuable during the coronavirus crisis.
While the majority of clubs had to scramble around searching for new signings, with funds slashed due to the football shutdown, Aberdeen lost few players and retained a core stability.
The only players to exit were Greg Leigh (NAC Breda) and Jon Gallagher (Atlanta United) at the end of their loan deals.
Aberdeen initially projected losses of £10m due to the pandemic, although that figure has been slashed to £3.8m with wage reductions, fresh investment and season ticket sales. Yet those losses still restricted McInnes’ movement in the transfer window as no fees could be outlaid.
The Dons got creative with deals and secured McCrorie from Rangers on loan for a season before a three-year permanent deal next summer.
Jonny Hayes was signed on a two-year deal, but the deal was only completed because the winger offered to defer his wages for a year. Loan deals for Marley Watkins (Bristol City) and Ryan Edmondson (Leeds United) until January were also completed.
Free agent defender Tommie Hoban was also signed on a short-term deal until January.
McInnes said: “Healthy competition has always been good for us as a club and our best spells and campaigns have come when we have had that competition and that strength in squad.
“It has never been about individuals. We’ve had good individual players here, there is no doubt about that.
“However, our strength is in the squad and hopefully that is the same again this season.”
McInnes’ options will increase further when he welcomes back three players from injury.
Last season’s leading scorer Sam Cosgrove is targeting a late October return from a fractured knee cartilage suffered in a pre-season friendly. Scotland cap Mikey Devlin is also closing in on a return from a hamstring injury.
On-loan striker Edmondson will also return from an ankle injury later this year.
McInnes said: “People always say ‘you need this position or that position’ but I’m so comfortable with what we have got.
“We’ve dipped in and out of a back four or back five at times this season and we feel we’ve got good players to play a certain system.
“The five does suit us with the players we’ve got available.
“We’ve got flexibility. We have centre-halves that can play full-back, full-backs that can play centre-back.
“We have good strength in midfield with players of youth and experience.
“We have good ball carriers in the side with plenty of speed and also have forward options.”