Let's just be frank; Hibs have been excellent this season. Similarly, Hibs' midfield has been…
There’s nothing more exciting in European football right now than the race for second place in the Scottish Premiership. Don’t @ me. In all seriousness, the battle for the runners-up spot is going down to the wire and Saturday’s clash between Aberdeen and Hibs could give us the biggest clue yet as to who will finish second best behind Celtic.
Neil Lennon’s team have been formidable in recent weeks and are unbeaten since January. The Leith side put down a serious marker when they defeated Celtic at Easter Road a couple of weeks back. Make no mistake, with in-form strikers and a terrific midfield trio Hibs are the real deal. The fact they’ve not lost in 11 league games isn’t a coincidence.
Everybody was laughing when Lennon said this time last year that they could be the second best team in Scotland; they aren’t laughing now. That said, they face a tough test when they travel to Pittodrie on Saturday. Aberdeen are the only side who have managed to defeat Hibs more than once this season. It appears the Dons are also hitting good form at just the perfect time with wins over Kilmarnock and Hearts since the split.
They’ve also been here before and know what it takes to finish second. Although, with Hibs and Rangers on their tail, they’ve never faced competition quite as stiff as this before. To end Hibs’ run and keep their noses in front Aberdeen will have to be at their very best.
This is a rather obvious one, but Hibs are free-scoring at the moment. You only have to look at last week’s barnstorming 5-3 win over Kilmarnock for proof. In Florian Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren the Easter Road side have attacking potency and are a constant threat. Kamberi may be grabbing the headlines with seven goals and two assists in just 11 games and rightly so. However, Maclaren has also been impressive and has great movement.
The numbers emphasise just how effective the pair have been since arriving in the January window. Maclaren (0.61) and Kamberi (0.60) are both in the top ten players in the league when it comes to goals scored per 90 minutes. Oli Shaw also deserves to be mentioned given how well he’s done with limited game time; his goals per 90 is 0.62.
The worry for Aberdeen is a repeat of their nightmarish Scottish Cup semi-final performance against Motherwell. Derek McInnes’ side were nothing short of a shambles at the back and if we see anything resembling that on Saturday they will be punished. Kamberi, Maclaren and co. are unforgivable and will seize on any opportunity that comes their way.
Although it is important to point out that Graeme Shinnie and Kenny McLean were absent for that semi-final defeat. Their influence on this Aberdeen team cannot be underplayed, they make a massive difference.
This will be a tasty affair in the middle of the park. Aberdeen will be without the suspended McLean, so Shinnie and most likely Anthony O’Connor need to ensure John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch don’t dictate and run the game from midfield. They’ve done it so many times this season to great effect and not even Celtic could live with it a fortnight ago.
You only have to look at the graph above to see just how important McGinn and McGeouch are for Hibs – and Allan, but we’ll get to him later. Nobody makes more passes per 90 minutes for Lennon’s side than McGeouch (49.78) and he’s followed by McGinn (44.13). Similarly, when it comes to through passes minus Scott Allan, who’s in a league of his own (3.19), McGinn (1.77) and McGeouch (1.44) play the most.
Aberdeen’s midfield needs to press as much as they can and allow the Hibs midfielders as little time on the ball as possible. If they allow them to dictate then the Dons could be in trouble. McGeouch, in particular, has been a metronome of sorts for Hibs; everything goes through him.
It’s this duo that is also responsible for the largest number of passes into the final third each match. McGinn plays an average of 12.28 whereas McGeouch is behind him with 9.27. The point has been made how Aberdeen need to stop them, but it’s much easier said than done.
Containing Allan is a must if Aberdeen want to get a result on Saturday. The on-loan Celtic star completes Hibs’ formidable midfield trio and adds a creative spark in the middle of the park. He’s shown he can score, turn provider and play killer passes no matter who the opposition is. Give him space and Allan will punish you.
If you needed proof then just look at the table above. No player in the whole of the Scottish Premiership provides more assists per 90 minutes than Allan. In fact, only Daniel Candeias has more assists this season overall than the Hibs playmaker.
Allan is a number ten who enjoys playing in the hole between midfield and attack and does so to great effect. The graph below shows another dimension to Allan’s game; key passes.
A key pass is one that leads to a shot on goal and again Allan’s numbers are impressive. He comes out on top not just compared to his teammates but compared to every other player in the league. He provides an average of 0.84 key passes per 90 minutes which is ahead of Candeias (0.75) and Kieran Tierney (0.64). In essence, Allan is the kind of player who will and can create. It’s vitally important that Aberdeen mark him tightly and don’t allow him to roam free, otherwise, the consequences could be dire for them.