Rangers face Hearts at Ibrox on Saturday in a match with potentially huge implications. With Aberdeen and Celtic facing each other on Sunday, a win for Rangers will see any result in that match be of benefit. We’ve pulled together some stats and facts to give you an idea of what to expect this weekend.
HEARTS LEAGUE FORM
Hearts currently sit 5th in the league on 38 points. They’ve scored 28 goals, the third-lowest total in the league. However, they’ve only conceded 24, giving them the second-best defensive record. Their top league goalscorer is Kyle Lafferty, who has scored 9 goals in this campaign.
Of their 38 points, 21 have come at home and 17 away. They’ve conceded 8 goals at home, but 16 away, suggesting they aren’t quite able to defend as well at other grounds.
HEARTS LAST 5 LEAGUE RESULTS
Hamilton (away), 3-0 win
Motherwell (home), 1-1 draw
Celtic (away), 3-1 defeat
St Johnstone (home), 1-0 win
Ross County (away), 1-1 draw
CURRENT INJURIES AND SUSPENSIONS
At the time of writing, there have been no definitive updates. However, Hearts are without Arnaud Djoum, Jamie Brandon and Harry Cochrane due to injury. Steven Naismith may also miss out as he tries to recover from a hamstring issue.
Hearts made a few changes to their squad over the winter. Steven Naismith and Demetri Mitchell were brought in on loan. They signed Danny Amankwaa and Joaquim Adao in midfield. In terms of players leaving, one-time Rangers target Jamie Walker was sold to Wigan. Isma Goncalves left the club under something of a cloud, and Cole Stockton was also sold. They allowed Krystian Nowak to leave the club as well.
MORE RANGERS STORIES
APPROACH AND TACTICS
Hearts have two preferred systems under Craig Levein. They will play a somewhat compact 4-5-1, or a 3-5-2. The former is used most often, and will usually see Don Cowie deployed on the right as more of a wide midfielder than wide forward. In defence, Christophe Berra and John Souttar could lay claim to being the best central defence partnership in the league. They get good width and attacking threat from loanee Demetri Mitchell at left back. They will play three central midfielders, but the injuries to Djoum and Cochrane will hurt them in there.
STRENGTHS AND THREATS
Rangers fans will be more than aware of the threats Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith present. What is clear, though, is that Hearts biggest strength is in defence. Both Berra and Souttar will be considerations for the Player of the Year awards, and goalkeeper McLaughlin is also having a great season. In an attacking sense, the ex-Rangers players will be a threat. Also worth watching out for is Ross Callachan in midfield. He is currently among the highest midfielders in the league for expected goals, so is clearly good at making runs from deep. Demetri Mitchell is a very talented player who will look to get forward from left back.
Hearts will set up to be difficult to break down and play on the counter. As mentioned above, though, they don’t score a lot of goals. They’re very reliant upon their defence not conceding to win games, which is always a risky strategy. In wide areas, whilst both Cowie and Milinkovic have ability, the former is more of a midfielder whilst the latter is very inconsistent. Injuries to Djoum and Cochrane weaken their threat from central midfield considerably.
Rangers look set to have the same options available as against Hamilton. Wallace and Alves are back in training as well, but it may be that it’s too early to put them back into the starting line-up. Jason Holt returns from suspension. It’s likely that the starting team will be in the 4-2-3-1 formation. The manager has to decide whether or not to stick with Docherty next to Goss, or to bring back Holt. The threat of the forward four will be key as always, as will the pace Rangers look to play at.
PREDICTED STARTING LINE UP
Rangers showed some real quality in an attacking sense against Hamilton. The movement, pace and confidence in possession was excellent throughout. In this match, the challenge to break down the opposition is far greater, so it will be key that confidence levels are maintained. This is likely to be a game where patience will be required.
In terms of Hearts, I have a feeling that Steven Naismith will start from the bench if fit. Levein would have no issues throwing him in from the start, but he’d be likely to be played wide left, so would have to defend a lot against Tavernier’s runs. As he’s not at his fittest, I suspect Levein will use him as an impact sub. For Rangers, I think Holt will come back into the side for this game, but players like Docherty and Cummings will be used from the bench. The tempo of the match will be somewhat slow as Hearts play to frustrate, and Rangers will need to score an early goal to open things up.
I’m going to go for a 1-0 Rangers win in a nervy game. What are your predictions for this one? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk with your thoughts!