Celtic – Hibernian | The Preview

Celtic v Hibernian (SPFL Premiership)

Saturday, 20th October

Celtic Park, Glasgow

 

Neil Lennon brings his high-flying Hibs side down the M8 for a match that could reshape the Premiership table.

Both Celtic and Hibs fans will have been looking forward to this match for two weeks, so moribund was this international break. Hibernian look to further secure their second spot, and can go top, above their city rivals, if things break their way on Saturday. Celtic, meanwhile, have been steadily moving up the table and can actually go into first place themselves with the right result. Both teams are coming off 6-0 tankings of bottom-six opposition, so expect a wide-open, free-flowing 90 minutes.

Celtic turned a very poor night in Salzburg into a superb afternoon in Perthshire, dismantling St Johnstone 6-0, with four goals from James Forrest. This result went a long way to help forget the too-recent last-minute loss at Kilmarnock, but the Hoops will be required to again show their quality, this time against a more determined and organized opponent.

This is the first time we’ll be seeing Hibs this season, and they have perhaps met with less success than their league position indicates. After a decent run in the Europa League qualifiers, falling in the third round 3-0 on aggregate to Molde, they have won 5 from 8 domestically and were put out of the League Cup by Aberdeen on penalties. And they, too, have a painful 2-1 away loss staining their record. However, they have scored 19 goals this season, most in the league, and have caused Celtic considerable trouble home and away since their promotion last season.

 

Last 5 meetings:

 

Line-ups:

Hibs will come in full of confidence and Neil Lennon will set up his side for victory, not to sit back in a tight bank of ten as so many visitors to Celtic Park do. And why not? An aggressive, pressing tactic can cause havoc for Celtic, who are used to time on the ball. Hibs will try and counter Celtic’s 4-2-3-1 by winning the midfield while setting their pacy wingers free out on the flanks.

Coming off a 6-0 win let’s take the spotlight off the defense and start with the forwards. After his scintillating performance at St Johnstone, James Forrest will be the first name on the team sheet. He’s kept the motor ticking over the break with two substitute appearances for Scotland and will be looking forward to the wide green expanses of Celtic Park. Tom Rogic paired with Forrest like a burger pairs with chips so he’ll likely feature as well after a rare easy international break for him. Leigh Griffiths looked a bit lost against St Johnstone, and he’s never really played set the heather alight against Hibs.

I suspect Scott Sinclair may have a part to play in this match, either in the starting eleven or as an impact sub running at a suspect defense. His last real good showing came last December at Easter Road and he’s well due another one. Odsonne Edouard should complete the forward lines.

Scott Brown has used the international break to get back to fitness and I like him to partner Callum McGregor in midfield. Further back, in defense, things look a little rosier than they did a couple of weeks ago when we were all dreading either the long-term interregnum of Jack Hendry, first-choice central defender, or an emergency transdental electromicide performed on Marvin Compper at Ross Hall to get him fit.

Thankfully, young Jack can continue his education from the bench, and Herr Compper can rest easy knowing a date with Dr. Nick is not on the cards. Kristoffer Ajer, though, is taking his turn at the Springfield Mystery Spot, having started the season very well. He’s not been seen in the squad in weeks after being left out of the Rosenborg group stage tie with a virus.

Back in non-Springfieldian reality, it was good to see Filip Benkovic shake off an injury and play a solid hour at St Johnstone. The Leicester City loanee was replaced by Jozo Simunovic, who played an encouraging 30 minutes in his first action since a knee injury in August. It’ll almost surely be Benkovic to partner Dedryck Boyata against a speedy and clever Hibs attack. Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig at left and right back as usual, although Cristian Gamboa’s pace would be more useful than Lustig’s height.

 

Key battles:

  • Midfield v Midfield: This seems like one of those matches where winning the midfield matters more than most; the Slivka-Brown matchup and McGregor-Mallan on the undercard should be very interesting indeed.
  • Celtic vs Revenge: Will Celtic have a score to settle? Hibs frustrated them at every turn last season. Mental discipline will be key, to get a lead and hold onto it against a very confident domestic opposition.
  • Good Scott Sinclair vs Bad Scott Sinclair:  I believe the Hibs defense can be gotten at (same as ours, really) and after watching James Forrest and Tom Rogic pair up so well, you’ve got to think he’s saying “I’d like some of that.” A goal and a loud airing of his excellent song would do him a power of good.

 

Advanced stat analysis by Modern Fitba

Expected Goals (xG) Table

  • Hibs’ underlying performances (quality of chances created & conceded) show they deserve to be where they are at the table: they are 3rd in Expected Goals difference, just behind Hearts
  • Celtic have the best expected goals difference in the league by far, and slowly the results are starting to follow.

 

 

Form

  • Hibs’ form has been consistent and in only two games have their chance quality created been below that of their opponents – although those two games were against Livingston and Kilmarnock; probably the best two teams they’ve met on current form.
  • Celtic have produced more chance quality than their opponents in every game except against Hearts – and their last match against St. Johnstone was a real statement of intent

 

Goals and Chance Quality

  • Celtic and Hibs are almost mirror images when it comes to the difference between the goals they’ve scored and the chances they’ve created. Celtic have 4.9 expected goals more than goals, while Hibs have 5.9 more goals than expected goals. Over a full season, goals and expected goals are likely to align closely. If Hibs want to keep up their very good scoring rate, they need to produce more quality chances.

 

Finishing

  • Finishing the chances, not creating them, has been Celtic’s main problem so far. A highly effective performance against St. Johnstone has improved those numbers, but they are still towards the bottom of the league in Shot Accuracy and Shot Conversion. We expect Celtic to slowly move towards their expected rates, meaning if they team keep producing the same amount of chances, the scoring rate will increase.
  • Hibernian’s finishing have been very efficient; they have highest rate of shots on target scored and the second highest rate of goals scored from all attempts. Word of warning though: They are almost 20% above the expected rate when it comes to shots on target scored. Simply put: they need to get more shots on target, otherwise their scoring rate will start to slow down.

 

Chance Map:

  • As seen on the map of their attempts so far, Hibernian take a lot of shots from outside the area – the highest % in the league so far. They also prefer the right side of the pitch when it comes to producing shots
  • Hibernian usually start with intent – the 10 minute period in which they’ve created the most chances so far is between 6th and 15th minute: 18 chances in the eight leagues games have come in this period.

 

Prediction: Celtic 4, Hibs 2


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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