Scottish Premiership Matchweek 7 Preview
The International Break is over and for Scotland fans, it wasn't the most impressive despite picking up 4 points from two games. With players only from Rangers and Celtic featuring for a number of different nations last weekend, a lot of teams will be very fresh following the break, with some sides looking to use the extra time in order to build upon fitness and try weed out some issues within their play. For some teams, Matchweek 7 will hopefully start to bring a change in fortunes whilst others will be looking to build upon the form shown before the break. It's still early doors but once again, these fixtures should start to paint a picture of how teams are going to fare this season, it’s just a shame our ‘great’ TV deal isn’t going to be showcasing any of this action this weekend.
Livingston vs Hamilton Academical
We can surely expect a number of jokes regarding the crowd and whether there is a difference as this weekend hosts the El Plastico. There will be no excuses of the pitches conditions as Livingston welcome Hamilton to the Tony Macaroni Arena with the league's pluckiest underdogs enjoying a third successive season alongside one another in the top flight.
However, with the club's starts to the seasons and the knowledge of the two side's minuscule budgets, the two are tipped to be two of the side's fighting off relegation. The two are very used to being underdogs and will need to battle valiantly in order to pick up points throughout the season. Saturday brings a massive chance for both teams to separate themselves from the other, with Livingston looking to go 5 points in front of Accies, whilst Hamilton will look to leapfrog the Lions in the table. Only 7 games into the season but a win for either side could go a long way in deciding their fortunes.
Livingston have bounced back well following that horror show at Hibs and have shown their great defensive prowess at home with an impressive draw against Rangers and win against Ross County. Gary Holt seems to have stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation after experimenting with the 3-6-1 for a few weeks which seemed to be much needed following the Lions poor form. The loss of Lyndon Dykes will still need to be addressed, with Holt having to decide on who to choose as his frontman for this weekend. Lars Lokotsch got the nod before the International break and was unlucky not to score on his debut against Ross County. It is likely Lokotsch will feature again, following Jack Hamilton being loaned out to East Fife and Anthony Stokes still likely to be lacking match sharpness. Lions fans will be excited to see the former Celtic and Hibs man and will hope some hard work has gone into getting the forward fit for this weekend's game.
If Hamilton are to take three points against the Lions, they'll need to score their first goals away at Livingston since the Lions returned to the top flight. Jason Scotland was the last Accies player to score at the Tony Macaroni Arena, back in 2014, but Accies will be hoping to break that duct and try resolve their goalscoring issues so far this season. Accies have only found the net twice this season, a Christopher Jullien own goal on the first day of the season and a winner from former Livingston man Hakeem Odoffin the only times the Lanarkshire side have scored this season. Accies task of coming away with an away win has been made harder due to losing both first-choice full-backs, Scott McMann to suspension and Lee Hodson due to the defender having to self isolate. With this in mind, the aforementioned Odoffin may be moved back to right back to plug the gap and allow youngster Jamie Hamilton to come in at centre half. This still leaves Brian Rice with an issue at left-back, with Brian Easton also being kept out so far this season due to injury. Accies are already operating with a smallish squad and will require a real team effort - similar to the performance away to Motherwell - if they want to come away with 3 points.
Key Battle: Lars Lokotsch vs Shaun Want
As previously highlighted, Accies have some defensive issues due to suspension, injury and self-isolation so Shaun Want will really need to step up and lead the backline. Accies don't score many goals so will need to be solid at the back to give themselves the best chance of coming away with a point. Want is likely to be up directly against Livi's towering German striker Lars Lokotsch, who did enough to impress against Ross County. With the signing of Anthony Stokes and likes of Matej Poplatnik and Salim Kouider-Aissa in the ranks, Lokotsch will be looking to cement a starting place for himself and take over from Lyndon Dykes. The new striker will be looking to take advantage of Accies defensive issues as he may not have a better chance to make a name for himself this season.
Predicted Result: Livingston 2-0 Hamilton Academical
Rangers vs Dundee United
The first meeting between the two sides since 2014 where United recorded a 3-1 victory over Rangers at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup. Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven and Nadir Ciftci were the heroes on that day with Andrew Robertson and Ryan Gauld featuring for the Arabs, showing just how much time has passed since the side's last encounter. The two have been separated due to pair not featuring in the same league since the 2011/12 season, a stat that seems mad for two of the countries biggest clubs.
Rangers are full of confidence right now, with Steven Gerrard’s side on great form and yet to concede a goal so far this season. 16 points from a possible 18 sees the Gers sit at the top of the table and managing to produce some excellent attacking performances. Ryan Kent seems to be the star man so far with the winger netting three times already and seeming a constant danger. Rangers no longer seem to be relying on Alfredo Morelos, a criticism they’ve received in recent years but they have undoubtedly done excellently without him for the majority of this campaign so far. With a home game against the newly-promoted side, Rangers will be fully expected to expand on their great start to the season and give their fans something to cheer about from afar. Dundee United had been enjoying their return to the top flight, with a strong of decent performances earning the Terrors with plaudits so far this season. The win away to Motherwell was particularly impressive whilst United were very unlucky to not hold off against Celtic and earn a draw. However, any United fan getting ahead of themselves would be soundly brought back down to earth as United were heavily punished 4-0 against Kilmarnock before the international break. United were weak defensively and paid the price for it, something they’ll need to amend as they face the league’s top scorers. United have been without star striker Lawrence Shankland so far this season, with the striker pulling out of the Scotland squad despite an initial callup. The striker will be nearing full fitness and may feature in some capacity, although a start may be too far ahead of him just yet. With this, Nicky Clark will face a tough task leading the line against his former side but will certainly be looking to prove himself and score the first goal against Rangers this season.
Key Battle: Kemar Roofe vs Mark Connolly
Connolly was caught out for Nicke Kabamba's second goal before the break that ultimately put the game out of sight for the Ayrshire side. Simply said, Dundee United cannot afford to make similar mistakes this time around, or they will be heavily punished. Kemar Roofe is still finding his feet in Scotland but has looked dangerous in his short time for Rangers already and will be looking to add to his single goal so far this season. Connolly enjoys a physical battle but will need to be aware of space around him and not dive in as Rangers will carve his side apart easily, much like Kilmarnock did the previous match week.
Predicted Result: Rangers 3-0 Dundee United
Aberdeen vs Kilmarnock
Both Aberdeen and Killie sent their fans into the International Break with great optimism following a pair of great wins the weekend prior. Both sides managers aren't safe from criticism, especially due to apparent shortcomings but recent results will have done them the world of good.
For Derek McInnes and Aberdeen, the direct style of football appears to have grown tired in the Granite City and with the club failing to secure 3rd place the last two seasons, there have been some grumbles. An opening day defeat to Rangers didn't fill many fans with hope as the abject performance was well below par. However, McInnes has managed to bounce back very well since then, with 3 wins from 3 following the loss and Dons players ill-discipline regarding safety guidelines. What is even more encouraging in eyes of Aberdeen fans is the improvement in the football being played, mainly due to the lack of an apparent target man upfront with Sam Cosgrove and Curtis Main's injuries. The Dons have played some really nice stuff recently with young players Lewis Ferguson and Ross McCrorie's performances being particularly noteworthy. The start of the season saw many tip Aberdeen to finish outside the top 3 yet again but they have done very well so far at staking their claim for 3rd, with a 1-0 win away to Hibs surely doing wonders for the side's confidence.
Alex Dyer recorded his record highest league victory before the break as Killie were clinical against Dundee United. A 4-0 victory with a brace from Nicke Kabamba, an instinctive effort from Eamonn Brophy and early Goal of the Season contender from Rory McKenzie made it a great weekend for the Rugby Park side. The win was much needed as Killie had failed to take maximum points from any of the first 5 games, losing three of the games. In his time as manager, Dyer has struggled to get a run of results going in his favour, with a 3 game spell in February the only time Killie have won back to back in his reign at the club. Dyer will be hoping for a similar attacking performance to add to this, with the decision to play two strikers being rewarded handsomely. Nicke Kabamba could be key again for the Ayrshire side, with the striker's physicality likely to be needed in a battle with Scott McKenna or Tommie Hoban.
Key Battle: Ross McCrorie vs Gary Dicker
This game will likely be a battle, with the two sides having plenty of players who like to get stuck in, with the midfield duo of McCrorie and Dicker certain to be the most amongst it all. A battle between two players at different stages of their careers, it will be interesting to see how the youthful McCrorie fares against an experienced pro such as Dicker. McCrorie has been one of the players of the season so far and if he can showcase a great performance against a strong midfield presence, his reputation will only continue to grow.
Predicted Result: Aberdeen 2-1 Kilmarnock
St Mirren vs Hibernian
The latest case in the Scottish Football and Coronavirus saga brings us to St Mirren vs Hibernian, a game that could very well be threatened due to players testing positive. The Buddies have been struck by Jack Alnwick testing positive for COVID, which has had a knock-on effect and made the club's other two keepers Dean Lyness and Peter Urminsky unavailable for selection. It seems as if this may be a common feature this season, with players missing out for safety precautions rather than games being fully postponed.
St Mirren are in a really difficult position, as losing a quality keeper such as Alnwick would be bad for any team. With Lyness and Urminsky both ruled out too, the Saints are in a completely unprecedented position where they have no available goalkeeper for the weekend. There are rumours of the Buddies scrambling to get an emergency loan, with Hearts' Bobby Zlaml emerging as a potential fix for the upcoming week. To make things even worse, St Mirren will still be without Joe Sahughnessey who serves the second match of his ban after receiving a straight red against Ross County. Between him and Alnwick, the duo have been a large part of the Buddies decent form so far this season with great defensive performances, leaving St Mirren fans hopeful their absence isn't noticed. The Buddies do welcome new signing Lee Erwin to the squad who will provide a physical presence up top and could form a good partnership alongside Jon Obika. Whether the duo starts together is yet to be seen, with the absence of certain defensive players meaning Goodwin may shape up more defensively to help aid the losses in the backline.
As St Mirren lose players, Hibs welcome a few back in the form of Alex Gogic and Kevin Nisbet. Gogic was unfortunate to have a false positive which meant he sat out of the 1-0 loss to Aberdeen and missed out on his first cap for the Cyprus National Team. Gogic's presence in the middle was missed against Aberdeen as Jack Ross will be delighted to have the Cypriot marshalling the middle of the park yet again. Kevin Nisbet is also likely to return, with the striker shining early on with his hattrick against Livingston. Nisbet hasn't been able to build upon his tally just yet with a recent injury sidelining him for two fixtures. The young striker will certainly be licking his lips this weekend as he shapes up to face a very depleted St Mirren defence. Hibs have been handed the perfect opportunity to bounce back from the disappointing display against Aberdeen and will be heavy favourites as they head to Paisley this weekend.
Key Battle: Conor McCarthy vs Christian Doidge
As mentioned before, the main talking point is the absences in the St Mirren backline. Due to this, 22-year-old Conor McCarthy will have a huge job on his hands and will have to have the game of his line to keep out the Hibs forward line. Doidge has had a great season so far and has improved heavily on his input in buildup play as well as continuing his goalscoring form. If Doidge can get in dangerous areas and supply those around him, it could be a long afternoon for the Buddies, highlighting the importance of a strong performance from McCarthy.
Predicted Result: St Mirren 0-2 Hibernian
Motherwell vs St Johnstone
The league's most disappointing side so far take on arguably the season's most underrated team so far this weekend as Motherwell welcome St Johnstone. Motherwell surprisingly currently sit bottom whilst St Johnstone sit level with St Mirren and Dundee United, teams who have earned more praise so far this season.
Something isn't quite right at Fir Park this season as Motherwell sit bottom having only picked up 2 points from 6 games. Draws against Livingston and Hibs aren't disastrous but the Well have suffered disappointing losses against Ross County, Dundee United and Hamilton already this season. Motherwell only have two wins in the league in 2020, a dismal run to say the least and something Stephen Robinson will need to change fast. With only two goals scored this season, Motherwell will need a lot more from their forward players as the Lanarkshire side have been very weak in attack this season.
St Johnstone have had a decent start to the season, albeit not spectacular which makes it easy to see why they haven't gained many plaudits early on. New manager Callum Davidson has managed to keep the Saints a solid side following Tommy Wright's departure, with the side battling and competing well so far this season. There seems to be good spirit at the club, with the opening day draw against Dundee United with 10 men and the late win over Kilmarnock will have definitely helped in this regard. As they travel to Motherwell, the Saints should be hopeful as a win against the Well wouldn't come as a massive shock based on this season's performances.
Key Battle: Chris Long vs Jason Kerr
None of the Motherwell strikers have really staked their claim so far this season, with Robinson alternating between Chris Long, Callum Lang and Jordan White mainly. Long could switch out for either of those options as well as Tony Watt as Robinson will surely be running out of patience with some of his forwards. It doesn't get any easier for Motherwell as St Johnstone will be solid defensively, with an inform Rangers the only team to score more than once against the Saints. Jason Kerr is a key part of that defence and will be fancying himself against some misfiring forwards. The Saints picked up their first clean sheet of the season before the break and with an apparent 3 at the back formation being deployed, they will be hungry for more.
Predicted Result: Motherwell 1-1 St Johnstone
Ross County vs Celtic
One of the test games this weekend that is allowing fans into the stadium, Ross County will be allowed to have 300 fans at the game this weekend as they welcome the champions. Celtic will, of course, be favourites heading into the game, with this fixture being one they enjoyed heavily last season as the Glasgow side scored 13 goals in 3 games against the Staggies.
County parted ways with striker Lee Erwin during the week and will be without Carl Tremarco as the experienced defender was sent off against Livingston before the International break. Other than this, County will be expected to lineup as usual, perhaps just camped further back. WIth goal threats like Billy McKay and Ross Stewart, County do have a chance if they can catch the Celtic defence napping but both will need to be very clinical as the chances are likely to be very limited this weekend.
Many will be tipping a heavy Celtic win this weekend, with the signing of Shane Duffy a great improvement for the Hoops backline, and the return of a certain Odsonne Edouard a massive boost. On paper, this is a complete mismatch and if Celtic show up, they will surely come away with three points. With Edouard back and more time for Ajeti to build up fitness, Celtic fans will be hoping to see Neil Lennon play two strikers and return to the good form shown at the end of last season. However, this season has already shown that nothing is guaranteed for Celtic this season, with their two away games so far proving to be very tough games for the Hoops as they drew with Celtic and edged Dundee United through a late winner. A debut for David Turnbull could be in the cards as Neil Lennon may rotate his players throughout the game due to involvement in recent internationals.
Key Battle: Ross Laidlaw vs Odsonne Edouard
When Edouard plays, it's hard to not make him the main focus of the game. The striker scored 3 times in 2 games against County last season as Stuart Kettlewell's side saw the quality that the Frenchman possesses first hand. It's set to be a busy afternoon for Ross Laidlaw in the Staggies goal as he is likely to face an onslaught on Saturday against not only Edouard but the likes of Christie, Forrest and Ajeti too. With the talent Celtic have going forward, Laidlaw will need to be on top form if County are to come away with any points this weekend.
Predicted Result: Ross County 0-4 Celtic