• Angus McGregor

Scottish Premiership Matchweek 13 (+ Scottish Cup Semi-Final) Preview

The Scottish Cup returns this weekend alongside league action but in unusual circumstances. The 2020/21 Premiership season is offering three games this weekend, with Dundee United Vs Ross County and Livingston Vs Motherwell on Saturday and Kilmarnock hosting Rangers on Sunday. This weekend also sees the continuation of the 2019/20 season's Scottish Cup, as the long-awaited semi-finals are finally set to take place following the previous league campaign being cut short due to COVID. Edinburgh rivals Hibs and Hearts will be quickly reunited following the Jambos relegation, as the other semi-final is a repeat of last weekend's 6 goal thriller between Celtic and Aberdeen. This weekend will surely bring more drama and excitement as this wild season of Scottish football continues.

Dundee United Vs Ross County

Dundee United won the first meeting between these two sides this season, with a late Nicky Clark goal sealing the win for the Terrors. Coll Donaldson put the Staggies ahead on the half-hour mark but was cancelled out before half-time by Peter Pawlett. The teams currently sit in 6th (United) and 7th (County) place with this weekend's game bringing a massive opportunity to create a bit of a gap within the top 6 from those in the bottom half.

The first game between the two sides saw United earn their second win from four games and the Arabs return to the Premiership looked to be going extremely well. Since then, it hasn't been the most inspiring from Micky Mellon's side although United still find themselves sitting in the top half of the table. Most recently, a real issue has emerged from United's attack, with very few chances being created against not even the best of teams. 4 shots on target in the last three league games from United will be concerning as they undoubtedly have great striking talent within their ranks, they just can't get the ball to them. 4 goals in the last eight games hasn't been heavily punished just yet as United have maintained a decent level of defensive quality in recent games, with Benjamin Siegrist showing his quality recently. Last weekend's game against St Johnstone saw Micky Mellon only make a single substitution despite no sign of attacking breakthrough, possibly meaning the manager doesn't rate a number of players within his ranks. Paul McMullan has recently came back from injury but has not been given any minutes in the league since the 29th of August, despite 13 goal involvements last season. The absences of Logan Chalmers and Adrian Sporle will not have helped but if you have to rely this heavily on a standard starting XI, it may become concerning.

Ross County's defence made a resounding return to their usual form with a poor showing last weekend against Motherwell. Stuart Kettlewell will be frustrated with his side's performance at the back as Motherwell hit the Staggies for 4, with at least three of the goals far too easy to give away at this level. It seems to be a similar season for the Staggies as they seem solid one week but a disaster the next. Kettlewell's side were desperately unlucky at the other side of the pitch, with Ross Stewart unlucky on a number of occasions. On another day, County could have had 4 for themselves but the differences in defences being switched on proved to be the difference. It's now 1 goal and 1 win in 7 games for Ross County whose good start to the season has allowed them to stay within touching distance of the top 6 but will surely change should they continue this way.

Key Battle: Benjamin Siegrist Vs Ross Stewart

Siegrist has been in excellent form and has been the main reason for United picking up points in recent weeks, as the Swiss goalkeeper has made a number of valuable saves. With the way United have been playing, it'll be expected that Siegrist will be called into action, especially from the goal threat that is Ross Stewart. Stewart will be hungry and looking to make amends for the previous week, as should County's team as a whole.

Predicted Result: Dundee United 1-1 Ross County

Livingston Vs Motherwell

Motherwell and Livingston were probably the two most overachieving sides last season but both haven't had the best of times this season. With Motherwell sitting 8th and Livi one place below in 9th, neither side have been able to recreate that good form from last season with stuttering starts. The first game between the two finished in a 2-2 draw, with both clubs having players scoring on that day who have gone on to make record-setting transfers away from the club, in the form of David Turnbull and Lyndon Dykes.

A home game for Livingston in recent seasons would usually mean a well earned three points for the Lions, with last season the Lions picking up 28 points from 14 home league games. Livi only lost twice at home last season, to Aberdeen and Rangers, whilst only conceding 8 goals. This season, Livi have already lost three times and conceded 9 times in 6 games this season already, showing the Tony Macaroni Arena is no longer to be feared. Livi have made far too many mistakes which has cost them dearly, something that will give Gary Holt a headache over his team selection. Robby McCrorie sat out last weekend against his parent club but there are questions over the recent Scotland call-ups place in the Livi starting XI following some major mistakes. The same could go for Efe Ambrose, who was substituted at half time at Ibrox following a costly mistake at the back. Ciaron Brown returned to the Livi starting XI and had a solid showing in his first game for the Lions since the 26th of September. Josh Mullin and Allan Forrest's emergence in the second half certainly made a difference to the Lions attacking output, with Livi fans hoping to see the pairing playing together for the first time since Mullin returned back to West Lothian.

Motherwell had sat out of action for almost a month but certainly did not look out of sharpness in their 4-0 victory over Ross County. Tony Watt was the star performer as Stephen Robinson's side brushed the Staggies away with ease, with the striker playing a big role in 3 of the 4 goals. Robinson has experimented with different forwards but Watt will have made the biggest stake for a starting role through the middle due to a tireless performance that wasn't short on quality. A win for Motherwell this weekend could see them end up in the top 6, with an extra game in hand to be played as well. With a number of teams out of league action, it is a perfect opportunity for Motherwell to catch up on some of the teams ahead of them and get back into a league position where they feel they belong. This Motherwell side will be brimming of confidence following last weekend's game, with it seeming as if things are finally coming together for them this season, especially on the attacking front. Motherwell have been forced into making a new signing in goal, with former Scotland international Jordan Archer joining due to Trevor Carson's recent injury. Archer will likely be thrown straight into action, giving the 27-year old his first game since early January this year.

Key Battle: Ciaron Brown Vs Tony Watt

Livingston's main problem this season for a large part has been through errors cause on their own back. Livi have been extremely slack at times and have made costly errors that has led to them dropping many points, especially at home. Brown returned to the squad and looked more settled than some of the other options at the back this season for the Lions, with Gary Holt hoping the centre back can help create a solid foundation alongside Jon Guthrie. Tony Watt will be looking to build upon his great showing last weekend and will be fancying himself against a Livingston defence that has looked shaky an awful lot this season. Watt capitalised on mistakes from Ross County last weekend and will surely be looking to pounce in similar fashion this weekend.

Predicted Result: Livingston 1-2 Motherwell

Kilmarnock Vs Rangers

Rangers were dominant in a 2-0 win between the two sides earlier this season. Goals from Kemar Roofe and Ryan Kent sealed the win for Rangers in a game where they didn't allow Kilmarnock to have any shots on target. Rugby Park hasn't always been the easiest of places to go for Rangers in recent seasons, with Killie winning the last meeting between the two on home turf, a 2-1 victory with goals from Stephen O'Donnell and Eamonn Brophy.

Killie were beaten by an extremely harsh penalty last weekend, ending a run of three straight league wins in a row. Killie were unfortunate to lose defender Clevid Dikamona to injury, with the Congolese centre-back having to be stretchered off in the first half of the game. Killie lacked a killer instinct in the last game against Hibs, failing to carve many clear chances in the game, something that will have to improve this coming weekend. Alex Dyer will be expected to set his team up to frustrate Rangers and utilise a quick counter-attack to try catch Rangers on the break. Killie have already done this effectively this season against Celtic, where Nicke Kabamba proved to be a real handful and earned the Ayrshire side a point. Killie have good quality going forward and could very well punish Rangers should they remain solid at the back and transition quickly.

Rangers demonstrated just how strong their squad is this season as they were able to bring talents such as Calvin Bassey, Steven Davis, Filip Helander and Jermain Defoe back into the starting XI following the Europa League victory over Standard Liege. Rangers capped off a brilliant week with a great first half showing against Livingston that sealed the win in 15 minutes. Steven Gerrard's side handled the game incredibly professionally, avoiding any slip-ups and creating a bigger gap at the top of the table. With another successful victory in the Europa League over Lech Poznan, Rangers will rotate again with the likes of Filip Helander, Ryan Jack and goalscorer Alfredo Morelos likely to return to the starting XI. Rangers appear to be in a great bit of rhythm where it doesn't seem to matter who is playing, they will perform professionally and get the desired result regardless of the personnel. Kilmarnock away has been a tough place for Rangers to visit in recent seasons, only winning once out of the last 6 league games at Rugby Park. In many ways, this is Rangers biggest challenge yet this season and is exactly they kind of game Steven Gerrard's side have to come away victorious from. This is the kind of fixture that Rangers have slipped up with in the past but a win here would be a massive statement of intent, but will they be able to handle the pressure of being the league leaders this time around?

Key Battle: Kirk Broadfoot Vs Alfredo Morelos

Two players who like to get stuck in and get in the faces of opponents, Kirk Broadfoot and Alfredo Morelos seem like a pair destined to clash with one another. Broadfoot is no stranger to getting involved and riling up the opposition forwards and, of course, we all know about Morelos. Morelos will be hungry for goals after netting against Lech Poznan in the Europa League and being slightly upstaged in recent weeks by the tremendous goal from Kemar Roofe and 300th career goal from Jermain Defoe. There's nothing like a bit of friendly rivalry to get the best out of attacking players and Ranger have that going on right now, giving Morelos the chance to show yet again that he is the main man at Rangers.

Predicted Result: Kilmarnock 1-2 Rangers

Heart of Midlothian Vs Hibernian - Scottish Cup Semi-Final

The fourth Edinburgh derby of the 2019/20 season, the previous three games has seen the away team come out victorious. Hearts have two victories to Hibs' one, with the last fixture being a dramatic 3-1 victory for the Jambos at the tail end of last season. With a neutral venue, the two sides being vastly different and the intensity a derby always brings, this one looks set to be a cracker.

Hearts have started life back in the Championship well, winning both league games as well as the three Betfred Cup games so far this season. Robbie Neilson is enjoying life back at Tynecastle as his side have shown why they are favourites to win the league this season. There will most definitely be a chip on the shoulder of this Hearts side, especially those who were a part of the team that were demoted last season. Hearts will be well and truly riled up for this fixture, even if you forget about the aspect of this being a derby. The Jambos will be looking to prove that they should still be a top-flight side and a competitive performance here will give them great confidence to kick on and dominate this season. Craig Wighton seems to be rejuvenated this season with 4 goals already in all competitions despite concerns he isn't cut out to be a starting player at Tynecastle. A challenge against Premiership opposition will be a real test for Wighton but could be exactly what he needs in order to continue proving his worth this season. With the likes of Liam Boyce and Steven Naismith in the ranks, Wighton will have pressure to succeed this season as there is players capable of taking his spot. Wighton may be on his last chance at the club after falling out of favour with previous managers but under Neilson, he's looking like a key player.

Hibs have really transformed since that shocking home loss at the end of last season, a game that showcased exactly how frail the Hibs side could be. Under Jack Ross, this no longer seems to be the case as the mentality at the club seems to be completely different at this moment. Ross has assembled a solid team that look to have some sort of character about them. They didn't hide against Rangers and showed how they can punish teams with a plethora of great attacking options. The term Hibsing it is often used to describe the Leith sides blunders and Jack Ross will be hoping to avoid doing so in his first massive game at the helm of the club. The pressure will mainly be on the in-form Hibs side who will be favourites against their rivals but you never know what can happen in a derby. This is a massive chance for Hibs to reach a major final since they won the Scottish Cup in 2016, and the fans will be expecting a victory. Revenge will also be on the minds of the players involved in that embarrassing rout back in March, with a chance to set things right in what could be the only Edinburgh derby until the 2021/21 season.

Key Battle: Craig Halkett Vs Kevin Nisbet

The Hearts defence last season could only be described as calamitous, with the Jambos conceding 52 goals in 30 league games last season. Hearts never got the best out of new signing Craig Halkett as the centre-half suffered a bad injury and never truly recovered from it, failing to recapture that form he showed at Livingston. Halkett is clearly well-thought-of at Hearts as he has been named captain in the first two league games and a season in the Championship may be best for Halkett to settle into this side. He will need to find that quality quick though as he comes up against Kevin Nisbet, the Premiership's top-scoring striker so far this season who will punish any slack mistakes. Halkett still has some doubters but if he can keep Nisbet quiet, he'll certainly win more people over giving the platform of this Saturday's game.

Predicted Result: Heart of Midlothian 1-3 Hibernian

Celtic Vs Aberdeen - Scottish Cup Semi-Final

The two teams shared the points in an exciting game last weekend that had three penalties, comebacks and a last-minute equaliser. For the neutral, we are all hoping for something similar although both sides will be hoping for something smoother this Sunday.

Celtic's draw with Lille in the Europa League made it 4 games without a win for Neil Lennon's side, an unusual feat for Celtic to achieve. In fairness, the calibre of opponent's has featured the league's leaders Rangers, current Seria A leaders AC Milan and current Ligue 1 leaders Lille so the drought is definitely over-exaggerated. The draw last week against Aberdeen will be worrying, nonetheless, with Celtic showing defensive weakness and not for the first time this season. Celtic will need to sharpen up at the back, especially Shane Duffy who has had a very rough time as of late. When a player arrives on known big money, they will be heavily scrutinised. In Duffy's case, he hasn't helped himself with some errors that have cost his team dearly. It will be a test of the Ireland international's character to see if he can bounce back from this run of form. His centre half partner Kristoffer Ajer may be unable for Sunday, with the Norwegian hobbling off against Lille on Friday night. Nir Bitton has done a fine job when he has been called upon so will likely feature should Ajer be unavailable. Neil Lennon will also be tasked with choosing a striker for this weekend, with Albian Ajeti, Odsonne Edouard and Leight Griffiths all available for selection. Ajeti looks favoured at the moment due to Griffiths and Edouard's fitness issues but they will surely feature, especially is Celtic find themselves trailing like last weekend.

Aberdeen made a massive statement last weekend in their 3-3 draw as most people expected Aberdeen to get turned over by the Hoops. Aberdeen's recent record against Celtic left little optimism but there will be a massive belief within the Aberdeen squad that they can get another positive result on Sunday. The likes of Ryan Hedges, Scott Wright and Lewis Ferguson will be thinking there is nothing to fear as they attacked and harmed Celtic so well only a week ago. Derek McInnes will be urging his side to get about Celtic early and force them into making mistakes yet again and not let them get settled. With Duffy struggling so far with the ball in behind him, Aberdeen should look to use the bigger pitch target and isolate the centre half in a foot race, using the likes of Hedges' pace to cause problems. The big Hampden pitch may also go against the Dons as they may be in for a tough afternoon when out of possession, with Celtic forcing the Dons to tirelessly chase the ball around for periods of time. With this, it makes it even more important for Aberdeen to get at Celtic right from the start.

Key Battle: Callum McGregor Vs Lewis Ferguson

As previously mentioned, if Celtic knock the ball about well, they have the chance to tire out this Aberdeen side which will eventually lead to chances. Callum McGregor will be a key part in doing so and pushing Celtic forward in attacking phases. The likes of Lewis Ferguson will need to be all action this Sunday as they will be expected to be solid and compact in defence and also be able to push forward when the Dons are in search of goals. Ferguson has been one of the league’s best players and has stepped up to deliver in vital moments, Aberdeen fans will be hoping he has a moment of greatness saved for Sunday.

Predicted Result: Celtic 2-1 Aberdeen

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