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Match Preview (Hearts v Celtic)

This is Celtic's most difficult match domestically since August 29th (at Ibrox) based on the probabilities of Celtic 55%, Hearts 20% and a draw at 25%.

Hearts are currently 3rd in the SPFL on 39pts after 21 games and 8pts ahead of 4th placed Motherwell. That's the exact same pts Aberdeen had after 21 games last season when they were 3rd. They are averaging 1.19 non penalty goals per game and are conceding an average of 0.86 goals per game. They are the only team in the SPFL not to have been awarded a penalty against them this season.

From a non penalty expected goals (NP xG) perspective they are on 1.13 per game so they have been outscoring their xG. At 1.13 they are 5th in the league with Hibs and Aberdeen also higher. That 1.13 is 40% higher in the second round of matches than it was in the first round.

Only 21.5% of their xG comes from set plays and that is the 3rd lowest in the SPFL.

36.9% of their xG comes in the first half and that is the lowest of all team in the SPFL.

In regards to NP xGA (non penalty expected goals against) they have conceded an average of 1.25 per game which means they have either been lucky or Craig Gordon has been exceptionally good given that they have only conceded 0.86 per game. Given that Craig Gordon has the best save % in the league at 83.2% I would assume his performances this year has been the main impact on the positive variance of goals conceded to xGA.

Given that their NP Post Shot xGA is 1.32 per game this would back up the assumption the variance is more related to Craig Gordon than luck or bad finishing from their opponents.

Their xGA is getting worse though as in the second round of games it is 21% higher than the first round. For NP xGA they are 7th in the SPFL behind Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hibernian, Livingston and Dundee Utd. This would suggest that Celtic should get chances against them.

29.9% of their opponents xG comes from set plays and that is the 3rd highest in the SPFL but with Celtic only at 17% of xG coming from set plays (2nd lowest) then these two performance areas may cancel themselves out.

In measuring non penalty expected goal difference (NP xGD) below I excluded any games involving Celtic or Rangers and Hearts came 4th of the rest with Aberdeen leading the way on 0.51 for NP xGD.

Including Celtic and Rangers in their 6 game NP xGD rolling average Hearts have been in negative variance for most of the year only becoming positive after the 6 games ending with Ross County recently.

Another factor in Hearts favour so far this season is that they have had the most penalties for (6) but they have had the least amount of minutes of opponents sent off (5 mins in total).

In the winter transfer window they have sold Armand Gnanduillet but he only had 469 minutes this season. In has come Nathaniel Atkinson a right back from Melbourne City.

This season Hearts have had only 17 starters and 19 players used in total and both those numbers are the lowest in the SPFL. A consistent team selection maybe helping them to their 3rd place position.

Against St Johnstone at home in their last league game Hearts lined up in their usual 3-4-3 formation.

- 1 Gordon

- 4 Souttar, 19 Halkett and 3 Kingsley

- 2 Smith, 14 Devlin, 5 Haring and 17 Cochrane

- 18 McKay, 30 Ginnelly and 11 MacKay-Steven

McEneff, Moore and Halliday came on as subs for MacKay-Steven, Halkett and McKay.

Out of their most used 11 players they were missing Baningime, Boyce and Woodburn.

Boyce leads the way with NP xG for the team on 3.92 for the season to date which is 21% of the team total.

McKay has 4.75 xA and 36% of the team total. Right back Smith has 1.52 (3rd highest) but he may be played at right centre back against Celtic to cover for Souttar who may be left out due to his pre-contract agreement with Rangers. Atkinson would then come in at right wing back.

I'd guess that their team against Celtic will be a 3-5-2 with Halliday or Baningme (if fit) drafted into the centre of midfield and MacKay-Steven being dropped to the bench.

In regards to team success when on and off the park Craig Halkett has the biggest positive variance this season at +1.75 goals when playing versus when not with John Souttar having the biggest negative variance at -2.08.

It will be interesting to see what Ange will do with the injuries he faces but I'll go for the following;

- Hart

- Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt and Taylor

- McCarthy

- Bitton and Hatate

- Abada, Giakoumakis and Jota

With Forrest, O'Riley and Ralston coming on as subs.

The first half will be interesting given that Celtic have produced 54% of their xG in the first half this season and Hearts have only 37% of their xG in the first half.

McCarthy will have an important game to keep Barry McKay quiet and his excellent crossing could be an issue for Celtic given the issues this year defending open play cross balls.

My prediction;

- Celtic to take the lead after about 20 minutes through a penalty with Giakoumakis scoring

- Hearts to equalise just before half time with an open play assist from Barry McKay

- Then Celtic to get the decisive goal in the 2nd half and O'Riley to score it on his debut

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