With the European action over, the Scottish Premiership is back underway. This weekend sees the Champions face a potential banana-skin. Two teams meet for the first time in history. Hearts look to continue their title challenge. Let’s dig in:
3INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE VS CELTIC
Brendan Rodgers and Celtic are still smarting from midweek.
Their 7-0 hammering at the hands of Barcelona wasn’t ideal. The Hoops were split open defensively too easily. The likes of Neymar and Messi were just too good for the Celtic rearguard.
However offensively the Hoops were positive. Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele troubled the Catalans.
Their directness and pace got in behind Barca on several occasions. That won’t change this weekend.
Celtic will attack Inverness. Rodgers will revert his side back to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Sinclair and Roberts are likely to occupy the wings, and that will have Inverness continuously on the back-foot.
Caley are likely to flood the midfield. Ross Draper and Greg Tansey will have the roles of battling the likes of Scott Brown and Nir Bitton.
They should come up short, but they’re likely to turn the game into a scrap at times.
It’s a fixture Celtic have had joy in recently, but they have struggled in Inverness from time-to-time.
Caley’s ability to flood the midfield in a tight pitch makes them difficult to break through. But they’ve conceded 10 goals in their last four domestic games.
Their partnership of Warren and Brad McKay are struggling to settle in the centre of defence.
This isn’t the kind of defensive form you want playing Celtic – a side who have scored 20 domestic goals in five games.
Inverness can look at Celtic’s leaky defence and take hope from it. Indeed, Celtic have only kept two clean sheets since Rodgers took charge.
However, the problem is the Hoops have far too much firepower for anyone in Scotland, and Sunday should be another sign of that.
PREDICTION: INVERNESS 1-3 CELTIC
2RANGERS VS ROSS COUNTY
This fixture presents a first for Scottish football. Rangers have never met Ross County in their history. But Saturday will see the two come face to face at Ibrox in the Premiership.
The Gers are still smarting from last Saturday’s 5-1 hammering at Celtic Park. Rangers were exploited defensively throughout the game. Rob Kiernan was particularly poor and has been shaky since the start of a season.
With Danny Wilson injured and Philippe Senderos suspended, Rangers are short at the back. They’ve already yet to keep a clean sheet this season.
They’ve shipped nine goals in the first five games. Notably, six of those goals have come from crosses into the box.
Rangers have struggled from set pieces since the start of the season. This is something County can exploit. The Staggies have scored several goals already this season from headers.
Liam Boyce is the side’s top scorer with six goals and is in fact also the league’s top scorer. His heading ability is a real threat to the Rangers back-line this weekend.
County can also leapfrog Rangers with victory at Ibrox.
Rangers need to sort out their creative issues also. Against Celtic, their goal was the only chance they created from open play.
When they get into the attacking third, they’re too laboured. Barrie McKay and full-backs James Tavernier and Lee Wallace are the only creative forces for Rangers. That’s worrying considering the lack of creativity that comes from the midfield.
Joey Barton is also struggling to back up his pre-season words. He was supposed to be Rangers’ grafter in midfield.
However he only tries to do the simple things correctly, and most players are breezing past him with ease and getting easy entry into the Rangers final third.
It’s another tricky game for Rangers, and with County high on confidence, there’s a great chance they can leave Ibrox with something.
PREDICTION: RANGERS 1-1 ROSS COUNTY
1ST JOHNSTONE VS HEARTS
These sides have already met this season.
St Johnstone recorded an impressive 3-2 win over Hearts in the League Cup back in August. The Jambos struggled to get into the ascendancy in midfield in that one, and it will be interesting to see if this game follows a similar pattern.
Hearts struggled for long periods against Hamilton last week in their 3-1 win. Robbie Neilson’s men were frustrated by an organised Hamilton defence.
It was only when Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson were playing together that Hearts looked much improved.
Their wingers have much flair and pace with them. Teams often have the impression that Hearts are there for the taking.
The Jambos don’t have a dominating central midfield partnership. This convinces teams they can’t get through Hearts easily enough.
However, it’s on the counter when Hearts get the ball into the wide areas that they hurt their opponents.
Don Cowie and Perry Kitchen are terrific with their range of passing. It makes Hearts so dangerous knowing that they have such an array of qualities throughout the midfield.
Despite Hearts’ impressive looking squad, they haven’t made a good impression on this fixture for some time.
St Johnstone has won this fixture four times in the last eight meetings, losing only one of them. With the game at McDiarmid Park, St Johnstone hasn’t lost to Hearts there in six years – that’s eight fixtures in total since a 2-0 defeat back in 2010.
Tommy Wright always has his St Johnstone side up for a scrap. They’ve been the best side in the country at minimising the threats Hearts pose.
Walker and Nicholson will be the Jambos’ main threats, but Saints have never baulked at how Hearts set up.
St Johnstone is likely to put two men on both wingers whenever possible. They will stretch five across the midfield and look to dominate that area. This has worked against Hearts time and time again.
The same could happen on Saturday. However, with Hearts looking to continue with their title challenge, momentum should get them their first win in Perth for six years.
PREDICTION: St JOHNSTONE 1-2 HEARTS