Aberdeen may have stumbled at the finish line of last season's SPFL Premiership to slip into third place but any suggestion that the Pittodrie side can mount a meaningful challenge for the league title this time out have been swept away by Andrew Considine.

While pleased at his side's gutsy performance as they exited the Europa League on Thursday night - Real Sociedad triumphed 5-2 on aggregate - the defender was, nonetheless, pragmatic on how the title race will play out over the next nine months. He acknowledged that Celtic will retain the championship comfortably.

"I'd say it's bonkers to suggest we can challenge Celtic," said Considine. "A lot of people are saying it, but the financial difference is still massive. The depth of squad they have is huge and even though they are in Europe, they are used to that schedule every year. The aim has to be that second place as it's realistic for us."

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Such a public admission may not sit well with supporters, of course, 17,000 of whom are expected to be at Pittodrie tomorrow for the opening league match of the new season, against Dundee United. However, Considine sees no need to set unreasonable targets.

Yet he is not without ambition. Wins in the Europa League against Daugava Riga and Groningen, as well as two pulsating ties against Sociedad will mean that most rival managers will have Aberdeen as favourites to secure second place in the division.

"The European run has set us in good stead for the season ahead," Considine added. "Going away to Groningen, where nobody had us winning that game at all, including Groningen who felt they were 80 per cent through, was great.

"To then play Real Sociedad, who took Manchester United all the way in the Champions League last season, has been a great experience and it shows the confidence in the squad."

Suspensions carried over from last season mean that Russell Anderson and Jonny Hayes will be missing from the line-up tomorrow, while David Goodwillie - who started his first game for the Pittodrie outfit on Thursday night - is likely to be given the nod against his former United team-mates.

It is, according to Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, a "brilliant opening fixture" yet one in which he will be forced to introduce Ashton Taylor, a former Tranmere Rovers centre-back signed a few weeks ago, as Anderson's stand-in. Jeffrey Monkana, a winger on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion, will be considered as a replacement for Hayes.

The discussions held by United have referred to how the team will start, rather than who. The Tannadice side - that finished fourth in the table last season and also reached the Scottish Cup final - are notorious for starting campaigns slowly and the squad are determined to make a more compelling opening at Pittodrie.

"You could say we're slow starters," said John Rankin, the United midfielder. "In the first season I was here, we were in danger of going bottom of the league if we lost away to Dunfermline around late October time. However, we went on to finish fourth that season.

"Hopefully we can banish that tradition of being slow starters. When you find yourself playing catch-up it's not great. You saw last season, we only took two points from our first three games. So we've got a hard game on Sunday and obviously we want to get off to a good start. If we can start the season the way we normally finish the season, then I'm sure we can be in for a good season."