With Celtic and Aberdeen both narrow victors in the League Cup quarterfinals this week  all eyes now turn to the league. With both teams underperforming so far this match is of enormous importance. 

Celtic, who have had their worst start to a domestic season in 20 years, should be somewhat encouraged by an improved second-half performance in Perth on Wednesday night, but the same problems that have plagued them are still there, and there’s nothing much to indicate the worm is ready to turn. Brendan Rodgers is having a difficult time both figuring out his best XI and keeping them healthy enough to play, and many of the players themselves continue to be having an off season (or even year).

Aberdeen and their fans will likewise be disappointed with their 2018/19 campaign so far. They performed bravely in a killer European qualifier with Burnley, but in the end went out of Europe at the first post. This is their first meeting with Celtic this season, and the two squads come into the game mid-table; Aberdeen are in seventh place, a point behind Celtic. This is a Reds squad that I predicted would fall a bit from the second-place sinecure they have held more or less since Rangers went bust. There are some new faces in the dressing room, but all in all they have not done much to impress Derek McInnes.


Stats & Facts Corner:

  • Aberdeen are having a torrid time in front of net, with only five goals to show from six matches. However, they have only allowed five.
  • Celtic have not allowed a goal in their last four matches at Celtic Park.
  • Aberdeen’s fluke 0-1 victory at Celtic Park last year was truly illustrative of Celtic’s difficulties this year: Celtic took 19 shots and 6 on target, but were stymied by both Dons keeper Lewis and their own poor finishing. Meanwhile, Aberdeen’s one shot on target went in.


Last five meetings:



Aberdeen, as noted in the Stats & Facts Corner, are having a terrible start offensively to their season. They are averaging under a goal per game, and with their forward options being what they are that’s no surprise. Stevie May has been an utterly disappointing signing and Gary Mackay-Steven is pacy but not much else. For that reason I think you will see McInnes go for a more defensive system, leaving one up top: Man U loanee James Wilson, who scored in Aberdeen’s last league match, a 1-0 home win against Motherwell.

The Dons can point to their defence, which like the offense is ticking along at a sub-one goal per game pace, as the one real positive so far. The vaunted Scott McKenna is back in good health and will absolutely feature at centre-back. Some of the same old names are still with Aberdeen, like the ageless Andy Considine, the combative Graeme Shinnie, and consummate p.. [whoa, there – Ed.]  Shay Logan.

Brendan Rodgers has been tinkering with the Celtic lineup a bit, trying to clear the offensive funk about the squad and get them back to realizing their goal-scoring potential. The Hoops had another match on Wednesday night where their attacking performance was much better than the one goal they had to show for it when the full-time whistle went, so the goals are coming, it’s just no one is sure when.

For the last match, the choice was made to put Leigh Griffiths up front with Odsonne Edouard in an attempt to jump-start the scoring. Whether or not it was a true 4-4-2 is up for debate, but I don’t think you’ll see it again. Griffiths has scored Celtic’s lone goal in each of our last three matches, and it is frightening to think where we would be without him. He’ll be the first name on the team sheet.

Rodgers does have some intriguing decisions to make regarding the lineup. Lewis Morgan was a bright spark in the 25 minutes he received, having a couple pops at goal and impressing with his pace. It would surprise me to see Morgan in the starting XI but I do think he will appear off the bench; his best place in this team right now is the Paddy Roberts super-sub role. Scott Sinclair is not getting his outlandish wages to sit on the bench, and it’s time for him to finally put up and get back into some form, or shut up and find another club he feels is a better fit for him.

Celtic’s defense is yet again an issue, this time due to rampant injury. Filip Benkovic went down in the warmup at Killie, and Kristoffer Ajer had to leave the match in Perth after 33 minutes. Neither are expected back before the beginning of November. Having Jack Hendry and Dedryck Boyata the only two healthy CBs with only Marvin Compper as cover is terrifying, but yet another ugly fact Celtic fans are having to face this season. Olivier Ntcham misses out on this one after his brainless sending-off at St. Mirren.


Key points to watch:

  • Is this finally the match where the Hoops get everything clicking? In seasons past Celtic have come into a lot of matches with Aberdeen needing a win, and when the chips are down Celtic have put in some excellent performances against their league rivals.
  • Derek McInnes’ tactics. By all rights he will set out his stall to frustrate Celtic with physical play and stout defence. However, Celtic’s makeshift back line will be tempting for him to attack. His eventual midfield selections will tell you everything you need to know about the Dons’ intent.
  • How will Youssouf Mulumbu get on in his second match in green and white? This will be his home debut and the fans will be right behind him, looking for a solid performance against the scrappy Aberdeen midfield.


Advanced stats by Modern Fitba

Expected Goals (xG) Table

  • Aberdeen and Celtic may be close in the league table, but their underlining performances have been quite different – Celtic is top in terms of chance quality created and conceded (measured in Expected Goals) and their performances will yield better results over a larger amount of games, while Aberdeen is exactly where they ‘deserve’ to be based on their performances so far.



  • When it comes to measuring form, results are for wee guys, xG Difference Per Game is for shaggers.
  • Aberdeen have been very balanced when it comes to the difference between the quality of chances they have created and conceded in each game (measured in xG), while Celtic have created more than they’ve conceded in every game so far except versus Hearts away.


Goals and Chance Quality

  • Much has been said about Celtic’s lack of goals this season (they are 7th in non-penalty goals scored) but there is a silver lining: the chances they have created are the second best in the league. The expected goals from their chances so far is above 12, a huge difference to their actual tally. The goals will come as long as Celtic keep producing the same amount of chances.
  • Aberdeen have produced the exact same shots for as they have conceded (61) – it’s hardly the mark of a team with top 3 ambitions. All the advanced stats point to the fact that their mid-table position perfectly represent their actual performances so far.


Chance Map:

  • No surprise that Aberdeen loves a header. Their biggest chances have overwhelmingly been headers deep inside the penalty box and Celtic can expect another aerial onslaught, especially from set-pieces and open play crosses toward their two big men up front in Cosgrove and Wilson.
  • Aberdeen are also very slow starters offensively; in their first six league matches they’ve only produced 11 attempts in total during the first 30 minutes of each game.



  • Much has been said about Celtic’s poor efforts in front of goal this season and the stats back this up: they are towards the very bottom in all our three metrics that measure finishing.
  • The ‘good news’ is that such finishing rate is highly likely to ‘regress to the mean’ over a full season, i.e. line up with the expected rates. This mean that over a bigger sample we expect Celtic to experience a ca. 10% increase in the rate of goals scored from all attempts and in how many shots hit the target.


Prediction: Celtic 4, Aberdeen 0. We haven’t gone away, you know.

Matt Evans is a recent transplant to the UK from the US. Celtic was passed down to him by a rogue soccer-loving Irish-American uncle in the 1980s and by the time European nights started being shown on satellite and streaming worldwide he was hooked. An editor by trade, he edits the 90MC publication, The Cynical, among other football publications. His all-time favourite Celt is Artur Boruc, and if he were a tree he would be a palm tree.

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