Scottish Premiership Preview – Round 7

David Walton previews the key action this weekend in the SPL

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A bitter rivalry is resumed. The champions face routine opposition. Ross County looks to win at a venue they never have. Let’s have a look at all the Scottish Premiership action this weekend.

3Celtic vs. Kilmarnock

Celtic vs. Kilmarnock

Despite Celtic’s imperious early-season form, you get the feeling their confidence has been shot.

Last weekend saw them come up against Inverness where they played typically expansive and expressive football in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The chances were there, but they suddenly started missing everything in sight and came back with a 2-2 draw.

Fast forward to Wednesday night, when Alloa Athletic at home in the Betfred Cup looked as routine as possible. Celtic struggled to create any chances as Scott Sinclair and Patrick Roberts weren’t at their best. It eventually took them 81 minutes to breakthrough, before winning 2-0.

Celtic have won nine of their last 11 matches against Kilmarnock, whereas Killie have only won once at Celtic Park in over 60 years.

Souleymane Coulibaly is making an impression for the Rugby Park men and his forward runs could cause problems for Celtic.

Lee Clark is also trying to blend his 11 new signings in the squad, and many of them have not convinced.

Don’t be surprised if they attempt the same as Alloa with their shape. They’ll try to narrow the game and squeeze Celtic out of the final third.

Prediction: Celtic 3-0 Kilmarnock

2Aberdeen vs. Rangers

Rangers vs Ross County

Anyone who knows anything about this fixture knows how heated it is.

Aberdeen and Rangers may have been miles apart in terms of the geographical location, but they still don’t like each other. It’s an odd rivalry that has gone on for years.

The Blues came back with a 2-1 victory when the two sides met for the first time in the Granite City five years ago, but a similar result this weekend would be a massive surprise.

The Dons are one of the teams who’ve flourished in Rangers’ absence from the top flight. They’ve been the main challengers to Celtic for the last three years.

Except for Celtic, Aberdeen is the toughest side Rangers will face this season. However they haven’t started the season on fire, winning only two of their first six games. For that poor return, they’ve come under scrutiny.

Ironically the same thing could be said for Rangers.

The Gers are still smarting from their defeat to Celtic and followed it up with a dire 0-0 draw at home to Ross County.

Mark Warburton came out and said their performance against County was the best of the season, and that’s angered the demanding Rangers fans.

Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes will be keen to stress that was exactly what their 3-1 win at Dundee was last time out.

Prediction: Aberdeen 2-1 Rangers

1Hearts vs. Ross County

Hearts vs. Ross County

It’s fair to say Hearts’ title challenge is faltering.

The 1-0 loss at St Johnstone was not the performance of champions as they struggled to cope with the gritty nature of the Saints midfield.

Perry Kitchen and Don Cowie struggled to get a grip on the game, leaving Tony Watt and Bjorn Johnsen isolated in the final third.

Luckily, they have a fixture this weekend that has been generous to them in the past.

Ross County at home has been guaranteed points for the Jambos recently. Six competitive games have been played between the sides since 2012 at Tynecastle, with Hearts winning three and drawing three.

In each of those games, County will have felt they could’ve nicked the game. They finally have the quality amongst their side to do just that.

With Liam Boyce, the league’s top scorer, back to full fitness, they have a predator up front.

They came close to taking a win at Ibrox last weekend, and there’s no reason why a similar performance can’t earn them a first ever win at Tynecastle.

County will play with two defensive midfielders and look to break up Hearts attacks. Jonathan Franks and Michael Gardyne will be relied on to switch the ball from defence to attack.

Hearts will look for newly appointed captain Kitchen to dominate. He needs to show that range of passing we know he has.

With County sitting relatively deep, Hearts will have most of the possession and this will be where the central-midfield pair has to dictate.

Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson may occupy the wings. If so, getting the ball to them at every opportunity is essential.

They have a rock solid defence and a talented young attack. So it’s down to the experienced midfield to help make this raw Hearts side a real team.

County will be a struggle, but Hearts should come through.

Prediction: Hearts 3-1 Ross County

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