Aberdeen and Inverness Caley Thistle lock horns in the 2014 Scottish League Cup Final at Celtic Park on Sunday as the first domestic prize of the Scottish season is at stake.
Derek McInnes’s men, who sit second in the Scottish Premiership, are favourites to win the competition for the first time since 1996.
But the Highlanders, under former Hibernian manager John Hughes, will be eager to clinch a first major trophy of their 20-year existence.
Both sides have experienced a contrasting run of form of late however that will count for very little when referee Steven McLean‘s whistle blows at Parkhead.
With both sides having injuries and suspensions to contend with, the team selections will be just as interesting as the battle itself.
So who will line-up, who will have to be content for a place on the bench and who will be left out altogether?
Here is a prospective look at how Caley Thistle could line-up and what impact the players chosen could have: Inverness Starting XI
Goalkeeper: Dean Brill.
The former Luton stopper has been in good form this season and should get the nod over Ryan Esson to start between the sticks.
Defence: David Raven, Danny Devine, Josh Meekings, Graeme Shinnie
The suspended Gary Warren will be a miss at the heart of the back four but it presents the perfect opportunity for Devine to prove his worth. Meekings had his semi-final red card overturned which was crucial – the 20-year-old is improving all the time and will be relied upon to provide solidity at the back, especially when up against a striker in form in Adam Rooney. Shinnie always offers width and plenty of crosses while Raven is a sterdy and safe presence down the right with a primary defensive alliance.
Defensive Midfield: Ross Draper, Richie Foran
Draper’s return from suspension will be a boost for John Hughes although James Vincent and Greg Tansey have been performing well so he hasn’t been hugely missed. He will sit relatively deep in the middle of the park and keep a firm eye on Niall McGinn. The experience of captain Foran will be crucial for Caley Thistle. He will provide the protection at the defensive tip of the midfield, a role he has acclimatised to after playing as a forward for much of his career. The duo need to work well in tandon and keep their discipline. Inverness can ill-afford to have numbers reduced on such a big occasion.
Attacking Midfield: Marley Watkins, Aaron Doran, James Vincent
In a likely 4-2-3-1 set-up, Aaron Doran will be the potent force for Caley Thistle with driving runs and the creative spark between the lines. The former Blackburn man will look to advance into the penalty area and support Billy McKay. The width from the right will be provided by Watkins, who returns after serving his ban in midweek. The tricky 22-year-old has electric pace and can cause Andrew Considine some problems down the flank. Vincent is not a naturally left-sided player and may be prone to shirking the defensive responsibilities that come with that role should he start there. He may be tempted to cut inside and pull the trigger which may be a danger to the Dons. His form has picked up since his long-term injury absence.
Forward line: Billy McKayThere’s only one man spearheading the Caley Thistle attack on Sunday and that is Billy McKay. The former Northampton frontman has gone off the boil in recent weeks, the goals have somewhat dried up for the 25-year-old, but you can bank on him to turn up at Celtic Park and deliver. He is a man for the big occasion and will be relishing the task of wreaking havoc for the two Dons centre-back. If given any sort of chance, he needs to take it and invariably he does. Inverness need to provide the service for him. If they do, it may be pivotal in the outcome of the tie. Should Caley Thistle get their hands on the trophy, McKay will have almost certainly played a part in it.
Here is a prospective look at how Aberdeen could line-up and what impact the players chosen could have: Aberdeen Starting XI
Goalkeeper: Jamie Langfield
The ever-present 33-year-old has been immense this season behind a back four that has been the second meanest in the Scottish Premiership, Celtic aside. Langfield would be first to admit he has been a liability in the past but since his return following potentially career-ending battle against a brain seizure, his form has been nothing short of sensational. He can be relied upon to keep McKay quiet. That could be one of the decisive duals in what promises to be a closely fought affair. Although he is not widely regarded as an expert penalty stopper, Langfield’s heroics could be the difference between winning and losing should the tie go the full distance to a shoot-out.
Defence: Shaleum Logan, Russell Anderson, Mark Reynolds, Andrew Considine
On-loan Brentford right-back Logan has been a quality addition to the rock-solid Dons rearguard, slotting in seamlessly. His adventurous forays will be key to unlocking the Inverness backline, confronting Graeme Shinnie and drawing the Caley Thistle midfield back into positions they don’t want to be in. Captain Anderson and Reynolds have formed an excellent partnership this term and are the bedrock of a relatively settled side. They must keep their concentration levels high with the Dons likely to dominate in midfield and may only have McKay to keep their eyes on. But they will be required to defend at some stage and their experience will be an essential to their chances of success. Since injuries to Joe Shaughnessy and Clark Robertson, Considine has been employed at left-back and has adapted to the position really well. He has improved significantly over the past two years and will have to be at the top of his game against Caley Thistle. Although he does not get forward as often as McInnes would like him to, Considine possesses the necessary steel and willingness to defend from the front.
Defensive Midfield: Barry Robson, Willo Flood
This area will pose a selection dilemma for McInnes with youngsters Ryan Jack and Nicky Low also in contention having performed well in recent months. But on cup final day, you need experienced heads, those who can use their nouse and be trusted to perform for the team. Robson and Flood, two powerhouses of Scottish and indeed English football down the years, are just the type of players you want in the circumstances. Nullifying the influence of Aaron Doran will be one of the main issues for the Dons and that will be the job of these two. Robson is likely to sit deeper as the anchorman with Flood slightly further forward but primarily, depending on how much attacking threat Caley Thistle pose, you will rarely see them cross halfway. Their combative and mercurial presence, ability to tackle and break up play make them invaluable. It is important that the dirty side of the game and the basics are right.
Attacking midfield: Johnny Hayes, Niall McGinn, Peter Pawlett
Diminutive winger Hayes has arguably been the best Aberdeen player throughout the tournament with three goals so far and will be desperate to make an impression in the final. His trademark lungbusting runs and wizardry will look to cut the Inverness defence apart while he and Pawlett can switch wings to diversify their play should they need to. McGinn will operate in the number ten role and be one of the main sources of goal threat for the Dons. He can be elusive when weaving his magic. He can be a hit from distance or making late runs into the box. A taste of the big occasions during his Celtic days will undoubtedly help him. Pawlett has been a revelation this term and is arguably Aberdeen’s player of the year, rarely missing a game, providing goals and assists consistently and has performed in the big matches. The trio will have a big say on the destination of the trophy if they turn up raring to go at Parkhead.
Forward line: Adam Rooney
The on-loan Oldham striker moved to the Granite City to begin a fresh challenge, albeit for a few months but has so far enjoyed every minute of his stay up north and the Dons will be keen for the former Northern Irish international to make the move a permanent one at the season’s end. He will give Devine and Meekings no respite whatsoever with his tireless endeavour, boundless energy and chasing of lost causes. His finishing ability is first-rate when on top form, as also proven at Swindon and Birmingham, and he is difficult to keep quiet. Six goals in eight games is a fantastic return. He will be desperate to add to that total and prove a point against his former employers, whom he faces for the first time since his 2011 departure. A potential match winner, he only needs one chance and will be on hand to punish any Caley Thistle lapses.