Celtic – Hearts | The Preview

Celtic v. Hearts (SPFL Premiership)

Saturday, 3 November

Celtic Park, Glasgow


Trying to Break a Broken Hearts Team

Celtic very much added insult to injury when they took on Hearts in the League Cup Semi-Final. A comprehensive second half performance saw Celtic beat the Jambos 3-0 at Murrayfield, with Steven Naismith the latest addition to the ever increasing Hearts injury list. Hearts have deserved their place at the top of the SPFL Premiership table, with both statistics and observation suggesting they have been one of the best teams in Scotland’s top flight. However, we’re entering a run of games that will determine whether Hearts are serious Top 3 contender or even a threat to Celtic’s title, as they now face a tough stretch of games burden by those key absentees.

Celtic meanwhile have seemed to silence any talk of a crisis under Brendan Rodgers. After thumping Dundee 5-0 on Wednesday, they have now outscored their domestic opponents 19-2 over the five matches. There was plenty of teeth mashing over the form of Celtic’s play early in the season, but our stats at Modern Fitba suggested that Celtic were still the top club in Scotland and the results have finally started to reflect this. Celtic now have an opportunity to close the gap in the table against a Hearts team who are starting to slow down after a fast start to the season. Can Celtic keep up the momentum and close the gap on Hearts to 1 point with a game in hand?


Stats & Facts Corner

  • After their victory over Hearts last Sunday, Celtic have won all the 21 domestic cup fixtures they have played under Brendan Rodgers.
  • After not scoring more than one goal in any of their games in September,  Celtic have scored at least three times in every domestic match in October.
  • Before their defeat to Celtic in the League Cup Semi-Final, Hearts had only been held scoreless in all competitions once this season (against Livingston at home).
  • Only 4 players have featured in an Edinburgh and Glasgow Derby for Hearts and Celtic since 2005: Steven Pressley, Paul Hartley, Craig Beattie, and Craig Gordon.


Last 5 meetings:



As mentioned earlier, the injury list at Tynecastle has grown as the season continued. Christophe Berra and John Souttar were the linchpins to the Hearts back-line last season, but will miss large chunks of the season respectively due to injury. However, Jimmy Dunne has stepped into the Jambos defence and been a revelation. My colleague Jason at Modern Fitba has found Dunne to be one of the best at suppressing opposition shots. With Dunne anchoring the back-line, the Hearts defense is still a formidable force despite high profile injuries. Hearts will also have to replace the injured Steven Naismith, who Celtic supporters will likely be crying themselves to sleep over his absence. Danny Amankwaa replaced Naismith at Murrayfield last weekend and barely troubled Big Kris Ajer and Filip Benkovic. Against Hibs on Wednesday, 22 year old Sean Clare played alone up top. Clare was not very effective against Hibs, so one could guess Craig Levein might give Craig Wighton a shot against Celtic after Amankwaa and Clare were so ineffective.

Dedryk Boyata came back into the starting line-up for Celtic against Dundee after missing the League Cup Semi-Final due to suspension for Kristoffer Ajer. Ajer and Filip Benkovic seemed to be on the verge of a beautiful partnership in that semi-final, with both looking assured passing and dribbling on the ball, so with Ajer not getting the start Wednesday, you could guess he would be back in to try and recreate that beautiful passing from the back music he and big Fil (trademarking that nickname now) created in Edinburgh. As a fictional evil fashion designer once said, Ryan Christie is “so hot right now” and you would expect him to remain in the starting line-up against Hearts. With Celtic seeming to click on all cylinders the last few matches, you would expect the rest of the Celtic squad to look similar as it did the last two matches in Dundee and Edinburgh.


Key battles:

  • Celtic Physios v. Hearts Physios: Both clubs have been on ugly side of the injury stick up to this point. While Hearts performances and stats have backed up a top of the table spot, one reason I was skeptical they would remain is due to their depth. Injuries happen to every squad every season, the teams that usually end up with the trophy in May are the ones that have the depth to deal with these injuries. Does Hearts have the necessary depth? We shall see.
  • Celtic Midfield v. Hearts Midfield: Callum Morrison was withdrawn from the starting XI for Hearts in the League Cup Semi-Final in favour of Olly Lee and Peter Haring acting as double 6’s. Morrison is a versatile midfielder who can play in a few different roles and returned to the line-up against Hibernian. Olly Lee is leading the SPFL in expected assists at 3.06. Peter Haring is averaging an above average 0.20 xG per 90 minutes played. This is all to say the Hearts midfield has a lot of quality and depth. We saw Hearts try to frustrate Celtic in the middle of the park successfully in the first half before Celtic was able to unlock that part of the pitch in the second half after bringing Ryan Christie and Scott Sinclair, but if Hearts change tactics and try to be more creative with these very capable players will the Celtic midfield be able to control the midfield without Scott Brown.
  • The Celtic Defence v. The Mindless Gaff: Thus far, Danny Amankwaa and Sean Clare have not been able to fill in successfully for the injured Steven Naismith. Craig Wighton could be given a chance at filling that role as I mentioned above. While I have previously described matches Craig Wighton has played for Dundee as “decent”, he is still a step-down from Naismith. Yet, when the Celtic defense has faced issues this season, often they have been created on their own. They will need to stay focused against an opponent who does not have the same stats, stature, form, or reputation the missing Steven Naismith does.


Advanced stats by Modern Fitba (data do not include mid-week games) 

Goals vs Expected Goals

  • As mentioned above, Hearts underlying stats shows they deserve to be towards the top of the table so far. In terms of the quantity and quality of the chances they have created and conceded (measured in Expected Goals), they are second in the table with plenty of daylight down to Rangers, Hibs and Killie. The only team better than team is Celtic, whose chance creation and repression throughout the season is now starting to really manifest itself in excellent results domestically.


Edouard vs MacLean

  • The most striking thing with Odsonne Edouard so far is the relative low amount of shots he’s taken in the league  – he is only 12th in shots taken per 90mins played (before the Dundee game). However, the chances he do get to is of a great quality: the average probability of converting them has been 24%, the third highest in the league. Edouard has scored on 33% of those shots, with 25% of his shots in the league this season hitting the woodwork and none being blocked. All these stats points to excellent decision making; Edouard usually only attempt a shot when he’s in a good position to hit the target and score.


  • We would never stoop as low as making an xBalls joke about Steven MacLean as honestly mate, that thing you’re doing is a just a bit weird. Stop it. In terms of the actual footballs, he has the highest expected goals both in total and per every 90 minutes played, a testament to his importance to the Heart’s attack, even more so now with Naismith and Ikpeazu out.


Prediction: Celtic 3 Hearts 1

Matt is a Celtic supporter born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and is a graduate of the University of Dayton (Go Flyers!). A few years ago, Matt learned about the burgeoning field of analytics in football. Excited with this new knowledge, he could not wait to apply this newfound wisdom to his beloved Celtic and the rest of Scottish football. However, he soon found that there was very little available when it came to these advanced stats for Scottish football. Taking matter into his own hands, Matt decided to track these various stats for Celtic. However, he soon realised he wanted to know how Celtic and it's players compared to their title rivals in Scotland. Then he wanted to compare every club in the SPFL Premiership. This slippery slope led to Matt tracking the stats for every club and player in the SPFL Premiership and Championship, as well as in depth blogs on specific topics in Scottish Football on his blog, The Backpass Rule (https://thebackpassrule.wordpress.com/). He can also be found on twitter under @thebackpassrule

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