Aberdeen will this week head to Dubai for a warm weather training camp.
It’s the fourth year they have made the trip during the Premiership shutdown, with boss Derek McInnes and his coaching staff clearly viewing the winter break journey as one worth taking – even now the £13.5 million Cormack Park training ground at Kingsford is open.
McInnes has told the Evening Express how the heat and time away together can help his players bond and he also thinks the Dons’ season has been boosted by Dubai every year. But how has it affected results?
Aberdeen headed to Dubai for the first time in January 2017 as the winter break was reinstated. They did so third in the Premiership – two points worse off than Rangers, with Celtic 16 points clear at the top by the end of 2016.
They managed 11 league wins from 20 – with four draws – before the shutdown, something they bettered on returning to action with 13 Premiership victories in 18. The Dons scored seven goals twice and six once in this second part of the term as they leapfrogged Rangers to finish as runners-up.
They also went on to reach – and come close to winning – the Scottish Cup final against Celtic, having been dumped 3-0 in the Betfred Cup showpiece by the Hoops earlier in the campaign.
The Dons went into the 2017/18 break sitting second in the league. Three points ahead of Rangers and eight behind leaders Celtic. It was a margin they would dramatically retain by the end of the campaign.
Before the break in Dubai, McInnes’ men had 13 league wins from 22 outings, with four draws, while they managed nine in 16 after the shutdown, with five draws. This means their before and after Premiership win percentages were pretty close at 59% and 56% respectively.
The final day win against Celtic, to nab second, was the Reds first league victory at Parkhead for 14 years.
In the Scottish Cup they reached the semi-final, with wins over St Mirren, Dundee United and Kilmarnock (via a replay), before being beaten 3-0 by Motherwell at the national stadium.
There is certainly a strong case for the benefits of the Middle East trip in these first two years, although other factors – signings, injuries etc – come into play. Last term, the boost was perhaps less clear cut.
Last season, Aberdeen went to Dubai on the back of a run which had seen them win 10 of their 14 Premiership games in October, November and December. They scored 18 goals in the final month of 2018. A great run.
Despite this – because of a pretty slow start to the campaign – they went into the shutdown in fourth place, two points behind third-placed Kilmarnock.
Returning from the United Arab Emirates, with competitive football resuming against Stenhousemuir in the Scottish Cup fourth round on January 19, they managed eight more league wins by the end of the campaign from 18 outings, with 23 Premiership goals scored.
The Reds stayed fourth, but only on goal difference, and it must be said their form wasn’t quite as hot as it had been before the winter break.
Furthermore, it also took the Reds a replay to get past Stenny in the cup, although they did reach the Scottish Cup semi-final – losing to Celtic at Hampden, having knocked out the Warriors, Queen of the South and Rangers (via another replay). In the first half of the season, they’d of course lost the Betfred Cup final to Celtic.