Scottish Premiership Matchweek 11 Preview
Following the International break and Betfred Cup action, the Scottish Premiership is back with a massive weekend of football ahead of us. Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and Motherwell are the only teams not to have been in action during the past week, with the clubs participation in Europe this season excluding them from the Betfred Cup Group Stages. There's been great starts for Livingston, Hibs and St Johnstone whilst Dundee United and Hamilton have suffered shock defeats already. Kilmarnock have been knocked out due to missing a game due to COVID and a 3-0 defeat to Dunfermline. Ross County and St Mirren had shaky ties as they beat lower league opposition on penalties before following up with a victory to regain momentum before the league restarts. As league competition returns, all eyes will be at Celtic Park this Saturday as Celtic host Rangers in the first Old Firm game of the season.
Dundee United Vs Aberdeen
The formerly dubbed 'New Firm' will square off this weekend for the first time in 4 years, with a single goal from Simon Church winning the game for Aberdeen in 2016. Shay Logan provided the assist on that day with the English defender one of four players who played who are still at Aberdeen, alongside Ash Taylor, Niall McGinn and new Scotland legend Andrew Considine. Mark Reynolds and Peter Pawlett also featured in said fixture but this time will be pulling on the orange of United as they face their former club.
There was a lot of hope from many when Dundee United came up and the Terrors start to the season got many tipping Micky Mellon's side for a top-half finish. However, in recent weeks the momentum seems to have gone down dramatically following a damp display against Livingston and a bitterly disappointing defeat to the hands of League 1 Peterhead. The most concerning thing for United fans within these two games is that United have only had two shots on target in their last two home games. United undoubtedly have quality in attack, a selection of Nicky Clark, Scotland's Lawrence Shankland and new signing Marc McNulty being incredibly strong for a newly-promoted side. But United seem to be having a real issue in getting the ball to these players, with Shankland isolated heavily in the 2-1 defeat to Livingston, leaving him to very few touches in areas that not even he could threaten in. United have now dropped into the bottom half of the table with a lack of goals leading to a single win in the last 6 league games. With Shankland and McNulty both available this weekend, Micky Mellon will be urging his midfield to get up the pitch and supply some quality to United's talisman, otherwise, a similar result will be coming their way.
Aberdeen have been spectators the past week with a few players away on international duty. Andrew Considine gained his first cap at the grand age of 33 in a 1-0 victory in which Scotland were very solid. Considine slotted in very well due to the similarity of the defensive systems deployed by Steve Clarke and Derek McInnes, with the Aberdonian fitting in as the left centre half against Slovakia. McInnes will be hoping Considine and co can provide a similar performance this weekend as the Dons look to silence United's threats. Aberdeen have conceded the third least goals this season - albeit holding two games in hand over 7 of the 12 Premiership clubs - as the new formation seems to be working very well. A positive for McInnes has been the great performances in the middle of the park, with Ross McCrorie and Lewis Ferguson gaining even more plaudits this season. This duo with Scott Wright in front of them will be confident of taking the game to Dundee United, with a dominant display in the middle likely to be a deciding factor in this weekend's game.
Key Battle: Calum Butcher Vs Lewis Ferguson
As previously mentioned, I think this game relies heavily on the midfield battles and, in particular, how Dundee United's central players cope. United really struggled against Livingston whose intensity kept them on the back foot and creating very little. It will be a very similar story this weekend as they face another tenacious pairing in Ferguson and McCrorie. The Aberdeen duo have shown this season that they have that extra something going forward and have the capabilities to punish teams who are slack in the middle. United's Calum Butcher will need to be on top form to support the backline but also in order to get United's better players up the park and creating chances.
Predicted Result: Dundee United 0-2 Aberdeen
Hamilton Academical Vs St Johnstone
It won't be the most glamorous of games at the Fountain of Youth Stadium this weekend as 10th place Hamilton host 12th placed St Johnstone. The two teams are only separated by goal difference, a single goal putting the Saints bottom of the table.
I'll need to watch what I'm saying in this piece just incase Hamilton manager Brian Rice accuses me of being a keyboard warrior. But the Accies boss will need a big performance from his team following the Lanarkshire sides performances in the Betfred Cup that sparked some criticism through the week. A 2-1 win to Ayr followed a stunning 3-1 loss at the hands of League 2 Annan Athletic rightly caused some outrage from the Accies support. Hamilton were 3-0 down before half time with a reasonably strong squad despite rotations. The criticism hasn't sat well with Rice but there's no better way to respond than with a positive performance in the league this weekend. Prior to Betfred Cup action, Accies looked to be on a drubbing away to Hibs. A Ross Callachan penalty and Ryan Porteous own goal got it back to 3-2 but it wouldn't be enough to avoid defeat away from home. Accies need to continue scoring more goals as they have been one goal away from turning defeats into draws 4 times already this season, a fine margin that could gain valuable points that will make the difference at the end of the season. Marios Ogboe got his first goal of the season in the win over Ayr, the first goal scored by any of the Accies forwards this season. Ogboe and Moyo need to start producing as Accies only really look threatening from set-pieces so far this season, with David Templeton's deliveries and Hakeem Odoffin's presence the main attacking input so far this season.
Last time out, St Johnstone were unlucky to not hold on against Celtic, with two injury-time goals leaving Callum Davidson's side with no reward. Despite the positives the Saints will take from the game, it is now 4 straight league losses without a single goal as the Perth side remain the league's lowest goalscorers. The Betfred Cup may have brought a much-needed confidence boost for some players, particularly Stevie May who scored a hat trick in the 7-0 win over Brechin. Yes, it was against lower league opposition but strikers feed off scoring goals, regardless of the opposition. 4 of St Johnstone's 7 points so far this season have come on the road and Callum Davidson will be confident of his side taking three points away from Lanarkshire this season. The Saints may feel that they are in a false position so far this season, as they haven't been particularly poor this season, it simply seems to be a lack of goals that has hindered the Perth side.
Key Battle: Ryan Fulton Vs Stevie May
If St Johnstone can get over their terrible scoring rate in this fixture, they should be strong enough to take the three points in this fixture. The Saints are solid at the back and deal with set pieces fairly well so should limit Accies to few chances, with more creativity in their team likely to make the difference. Following May's display midweek, the honus will be on him to fire his side to their third victory of the season. Ryan Fulton has had a great start to the season for Accies, making the most saves in the league so far this season as expected for a team like Hamilton. The importance of the players in the Accies backline will go a long way in helping them stay up this season, with Hamilton already reducing their goals conceded by 3 goals compared to this time last season. Whether this is a turning point for St Johnstone and May is yet to be seen but the former Aberdeen man will be fancying his chances this Saturday.
Predicted Result: Hamilton Academical 1-1 St Johnstone
St Mirren Vs Motherwell
Another clash near the bottom of the table this weekend sees 11th place St Mirren host 9th place Motherwell. The two sides played each other 5 times last season with three of these encounters taking place last February, with St Mirren winning 2 of the 3 which included a dramatic penalty shoot-out after a 4-4 draw.
St Mirren seem to have very little luck this season as they will again be missing players due to COVID guidelines. Two unnamed players have tested positive with another to self-isolate for precautionary reasons. Jim Goodwin will be frustrated that he has been unable to have a fully available squad for most of this season, with injuries, illness and suspensions harming the Saints an awful lot already this season. The Buddies sit joint bottom with St Johnstone and suffer from the same downfall as their fellow Saints, they aren't scoring enough goals. Ethan Erahon's thunderbolt against Aberdeen was exceptional but it was only St Mirren's sixth goal of the season in ten games. St Mirren are yet to score twice in a game so far this league campaign, the only side yet to do so this season with the stats in-game not looking pretty for the Saints either. Sometimes you are just unlucky but Jim Goodwin's side have only had a single shot on target in their last two league fixtures, showing they are struggling to create clear cut chances in front of goal. The loss of captain Kyle Magennis will also be stinging and won't be helping the morale within the North Bank support at this moment either. It looks like St Mirren are going to be in a fighting battle but this is something the club will be used to, with great spirit - and some luck - eventually getting the club through the last two campaigns safely.
Declan Gallagher and Stephen O'Donnell return to Fir Park this weekend off the back of three clean sheets in the dark blue of Scotland, matching the number of clean sheets Motherwell have had this season in a good week's work. Gallagher played 300 minutes whilst O'Donnel featured for 292 in a short period of time which may prompt Stephen Robinson to possibly rotate his side, particularly O'Donnell who featured in a tiring wing-back role. An injury to Bevis Mugabi makes it likely Gallagher will play, with the Ugandan now out for 6 weeks after dislocating his shoulder. Motherwell are still looking to kick start their season as whenever they look to get a great result, they get knocked back and are unable to get a run of results together which is evident by their league positioning. The next run of fixtures sees Stephen Robinson's side face St Mirren, Ross County (Home) and Livingston (Away), all winnable games that could get valuable points that will propel them up the table. Motherwell fans will be hoping for some better performances within these games as their side outmatch these sides on budget and depth with 9 points from 9 not unrealistic in this next spell of games. If Motherwell don't have a great showing in these next games, the pressure may start to creep in a little bit for the Steelmen.
Key Battle: Lee Erwin Vs Declan Gallagher
Lee Erwin lines up against his former club this weekend and looks likely to start up front this weekend. Jim Goodwin looks to prefer Erwin as the centre forward, often moving Jon Obika about to try get the two to link up that hasn't quite connected just yet. Nonetheless, Erwin is a valuable asset and a lot of focus from the Buddies will be to try and get him to link play and hold the ball up for oncoming runners. It'll be a real battle up top against Declan Gallagher, with the centre-halves physicality going to create a real fight against the former Ross County forward. It will be a tough afternoon for Erwin but he will be vital for St Mirren should they get anything from this game and improve on their scoring record.
Predicted Result: St Mirren 0-1 Motherwell
Ross County Vs Hibernian
The three encounters between these two sides last season brought a single draw and a win apiece for either side. The last encounter had Hibs come out as 3-0 victors as manager Jack Ross looked to be building the foundations for a solid team, something we have seen the effects of so far this season.
I feel like I'm repeating myself a lot in this preview but in the case of Ross County, it is another case of a team needing more goals. In fairness, County have had a tough run of fixtures but still have only scored a single goal in their last 5 league outings. Recent losses to Aberdeen and Rangers has seen County fail to register a shot on goal, with the Staggies averaging only 2.7 shots on goal per game this season. The Staggies have good firepower up top and are rarely dominated in possession against teams of their level but something doesn't seem to be clicking in their attacking play this season. The loss of Josh Mullin seems a very bizarre one relating to this, as the winger is one of those players who can create chances out of nothing but the winger had evidently fallen out of favour at the Highland club this season, prompting his move back to Livingston. Ross County are winless at home since the opening day of the season and will need to get back to winning ways as other teams around them have started to build up some form recently.
Paul Hanlon is the latest player to don the blue of Scotland for the first time, coming on oddly at left-wing back to see out the victory over the Czech Republic. The Hibs number 4 will be one of three Hibs players returning from the Scotland camp as Hibs had to deal with a depleted squad in their Betfred Cup games due to callups and injuries. This did offer Jack Ross the chance to give some game time to some youth players, allowing Ross to get a better eye on what stage some of these players at. There were appearances for Kyle Magennis as the former St Mirren captain rejoins his former manager, boosting the Hibees options in the middle, something they've desperately needed for a couple of seasons. With a great transfer window and his players hitting the ground running, Jack Ross will be very pleased with how his team have lined up so far this season, with 20 points amassed already this season, 12 points more than at the same stage last season. A massive difference so early into this season, Hibs look very confident and with good reason. They are well organised with great threats going forward, providing great confidence that they can maintain this level of quality and land a European spot for next season.
Key Battle: Coll Donaldson Vs Kevin Nisbet
Kevin Nisbet has adjusted incredibly well to the top flight, with his 6 goals making him the league's top goalscorer so far. The Nisbet-Doidge partnership is causing a host of teams issues and Ross County will be wary of these threats this Saturday. County have been far from brilliant in defence lately, with the home 3-0 loss to Aberdeen showing a great deal of weakness against a strong attack. This weekend could be a similar story should County not tighten up, with Donaldson hoping to keep Nisbet quiet, much like he did on two occasions against the former Dunfermline striker for Inverness last season.
Predicted Result: Ross County 0-2 Hibernian
Livingston Vs Kilmarnock
The last time a home team lost a competitive fixture between these two sides came way back in 2005, with a brace from Kris Boyd and a goal from Steven Naismith saw Killie win 3-0 at Almondvale. 7 games have been played since then with 6 victories for the home side and only a single draw, the latest being a 3-0 victory in favour of the Lions with goals from Jon Guthrie, Steven Lawless and future European Championship winning striker Lyndon Dykes.
2 league wins and 2 Betfred Cup wins have made things a lot brighter in West Lothian in recent weeks. Following a disappointing loss to Hamilton, the Lions looked to be a team destined for the drop following a number of poor defensive performances. Gary Holt's side have shown some great character though, bouncing back with good convincing wins over St Johnstone and Dundee United in the league. The Lions are looking a lot better and have now added a couple of extra bodies in attack. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas impressed on his debut whilst Josh Mullin scored three times in the Betfred Cup since arriving back at the club. The Lions now have Mullin and Alan Forrest operating on either side, a set of wingers that seem exciting to watch, especially given Forrest's exceptional start to the season. The former Ayr winger has really bought into the methods from Gary Holt and David Martindale, putting in a real grind off the ball and excelling when on it. The Lions are looking much better than at the start of the season, perhaps catching up on the lack of a true pre-season has done the club wonders the past few weeks but it is important for Holt to keep his side on top of things as they are still only 4 points ahead of bottom-placed St Johnstone.
Alex Dyer has been disappointed by the inability for this game to be postponed, following Kilmarnock only recently returning to action with a depleted squad against Dunfermline. Killie lost 3-0 as the Ayrshire side were forced to play four 17-year-olds and veteran goalkeeper Colin Doyle for the first time during the week. Killie reached out to reschedule but that offer has been rejected and Killie will now have to hope they can get their players up to speed before this weekend's game. It is uncertain as to what players may have recovered so it may be another makeshift squad for a tough away trip this Saturday. It is a shame for Kilmarnock as Alex Dyer's side were building up some momentum prior to this outbreak, winning 3 out of 4 and Nicke Kabamba in red hot form. The Killie forward will be gutted to have missed out on his first cap for the DR Congo national team due to the outbreak but will be raring to get back into the swing of things in order to maintain his place in future squads.
Key Battle: Jay Emmanuel-Thomas Vs Gary Dicker
Kilmarnock had to lineup with a makeshift backline that featured Gary Dicker at centre back with three 17-year-olds playing beside him. Dicker has plenty of experience and will help youngsters through a game but it is a massive ask for these young players to make this step up so quickly. Dicker himself is not a natural centre-back either but will put 100% in due to his great input and attitude. It could be a very tough test for Dicker and a young backline should Emmanuel-Thomas make his league debut, with the forward showing good quality in his debut against Alloa. Emmanuel-Thomas is experienced and will look to be making an impact quickly and with two quality wingers either side of him, he'll be expecting an abundance of service, especially against a weakened Killie backline.
Predicted Result: Livingston 2-0 Kilmarnock
Celtic Vs Rangers
The biggest derby in world football takes place this weekend with sadly no fans to create an intense and fiery atmosphere. It'll be odd seeing this spectacle without the supports of both clubs as the atmosphere's created really adds to the grittiness of the game. With both teams in good form and hard to separate, this weekend's game is incredibly exciting to watch as a neutral.
Celtic will be heading into this game missing a few players, with Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed likely to miss due to COVID precautions. Odsonne Edouard is speculated to be able to return for the game just in time, with Neil Lennon offered a headache of who to start up front due to a number of issues. Albian Ajeti is also likely to return but like Edouard may not be match fit just yet, especially for such an intense game, the same goes with the also returning Leigh Griffiths. There’s also talks of Ryan Christie being cleared in time for the game, following it seeming likely that Kieran Tierney will be available for Arsenal, as both players apparently having to isolate due to being in close contact with positive tester Stuart Armstrong. With Bitton and Elhamed missing, Lennon may also look to revert from the 3 at the back formation should Christopher Jullien not be match fit just yet to return to the starting XI. The headache doesn't end there as Lennon has the choice between Greg Taylor and new signing Diego Laxalt for the left-wing back spot, with Laxalt possibly not being match fit either. The preparation for Celtic has been plagued for a number of reasons but Lennon's squad has plenty of experience to get up for this game regardless of who starts. The likes of Scott Brown and Shane Duffy will be leading by example and demanding that extra something out of their side in what is a must-win game early into the season.
Rangers have been great so far this season, with solidity at the back and clinical finishing going forward bringing a great deal of confidence to their team. This is the best chance Rangers have of genuinely challenging for the league title with only a couple of hiccups among a number of massively impressive performances, both in the league and in Europe. There are no extra casualties in the Rangers squad following the international break with Joe Aribo, Nikola Katic and Kemar Roofe the only expected absentees. This will be a great test of character for this Rangers side and an indicator of where they are. If they can win this, it is a massive statement of intent and could be that extra belief they need to really kick on. There's a long way to go in the season following this but everyone at Rangers will know just how important a victory in this game could be for their season. Rangers have coped well with the lack of fans this season and with an empty Celtic Park, the Ibrox side may feel less pressure and can play their natural game. Rangers have performed very well in the most recent Old Firm fixtures although the result hasn't always been there. Going into this Saturday's game, there will be high confidence from Steven Gerrard's side that they can get the better of their counterparts and show that they mean business this season.
Key Battle: Jeremie Frimpong Vs Ryan Kent
Celtic's best performer this season against Rangers best player this season, this looks like a cracking battle. It brings an interesting contrast as should Celtic play with wing-backs, Frimpong will be looking to bomb forward and use his pace to cause problems, prompting Kent to track deep runs from the Dutchman. At the same time, though, Frimpong will need to keep a close eye on the explosive Kent, with the former Liverpool youth being a main driving force in Rangers' recent triumphs over the Hoops. Kent has enjoyed a great season so far and will cause Celtic problems by drifting inside and creating space for the oncoming supporting full back, giving the Celtic defence problems on who to track. These two certainly have the capabilities of being match-winners with both looking to get one over the other. Regardless of the outcome, this looks certain to be a cracking battle.
Predicted Result: Celtic 2-3 Rangers