It's been a memorable season for Motherwell. Sure, it looks like they'll narrowly miss out…
While most of Scotland’s gaze may be peering impatiently at Sunday’s Old Firm clash between Celtic and Rangers, there is undoubtedly a game of football on Saturday that could prove to be just as entertaining and ought to be far better contested.
In the other Scottish Cup semi-final, we have Motherwell hosting Aberdeen at Fir Park, in a match that really could go either way. In one corner we have Stephen Robinson’s plucky side, fresh off the back of an impressive season of scalp-collecting form and in the other we have the calm and collected Aberdeen of Derek McInnes.
Both sides are desperate for another cup final yet certain factors should weigh heavily on whether either team can expect a win on Saturday. Let’s dig into it and see who are favourites for the game.
On the face of it, Motherwell ought to be wary of their form in the big games. Although the Steelmen have built up a reputation of getting in the faces of some of the Premiership’s biggest clubs this season, such efforts haven’t always ended in victories.
In fact, when we tally up Motherwell’s points-per-game record against the 11 other clubs in the top division we find that Robinson’s side are not only poorer against the top six sides but also tend to struggle when tasked with taking points off them.
As we can see in the graph above, just one of this season’s top six ranks in Motherwell’s best head-to-head records in the Premiership this season. And even at that, it’s a Hearts team that have struggled to enthuse even the most passionate of fans at Tynecastle each and every week.
Indeed, it’s the likes of Rangers, Celtic and Hibernian that have caused the Fir Park side so much grief this season and as we can see Robinson’s team have struggled to match them on the pitch in just about every occurrence, with just one win in four games against Graeme Murty’s side and not a single victory in seven clashes against Celtic and Hibs.
However, there are some reasons to be hopeful. In four games against McInnes’ side this season Motherwell have won two and despite capitulating in defeat to Aberdeen just a few weeks ago there’s nothing to suggest that they couldn’t claim another win on Saturday.
Intriguingly, when we open up the PPG (points-per-game) ratios to all competitions (the orange half of the graph) we see that in almost every circumstance Motherwell’s record either stays put or increases.
Naturally, this comes about from Motherwell’s League Cup run which saw them overcome Ross County, Rangers and Aberdeen on the way to the final. As well as a Scottish Cup campaign that has seen them best Hamilton, Dundee and Hearts. Which goes a long way to suggesting that the Fir Park side are not only impressive in knock-out competitions but may actually be better suited to them.
Another factor worth considering is Curtis Main. We recently took a look at his ability to largely make up for the goals lost by Louis Moult’s departure from the club in January and on the whole the English forward has been superb since arriving in North Lanarkshire. Not only has the 25-year-old striker bagged six goals in his first 13 games for the club, but the manner in which he’s scoring them should encourage ‘Well fans ahead of Saturday’s game.
Sure, Main has only scored one goal in his last seven league games – and has diminished slightly as his team have stumbled with their form of late – but the striker has already proven himself as not only a goalscorer but one that enjoys scoring in the big games in an impressively short period of time.
Three of Main’s five league goals have come against top-six sides. Hibs, Hearts and Rangers have all struggled to contain him as central defenders have simply bounced off his Hulk-like frame. And he currently sits sixth among his Premiership peers when it comes to shots per 90 minutes. Crucially, averaging a better record than Moult did before he left.
Although Motherwell have a squad full of talented players, Main has quickly become one of their most important and should be vital to any chances they may have of winning this game.
As previously suggested, Motherwell have enjoyed a relatively healthy head-to-head record with Aberdeen this season but when viewed through the Don’s own point of view it becomes a little more troublesome.
Not only has McInnes’ side struggled against the Steelmen for much of this current campaign, but they actually sit fourth in terms of teams the Pittodrie side struggle to take points off of. As is evident in the graph above.
As we can see – to no great surprise – both Rangers and Celtic have enjoyed an exceptionally easy time of things against McInnes’ side this season, while Hearts have similarly managed to wrestle control off of the Dons with a win and two draws in three games. Then there’s Motherwell.
Unlike other bottom-six sides, in which Aberdeen have enjoyed either 100% records or something close to it, Motherwell’s style has consistently caused problems for McInnes’ side to the point that they’ve enjoyed better success against objectively better teams like Hibs and Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock.
Similarly, while Motherwell can take heart from having their key player up front Aberdeen will have to contend with integral members of their squad missing for Saturday’s clash. Shay Logan, Kenny McLean and Graeme Shinnie are all suspended and that will undoubtedly limit the capacity of McInnes’ side.
For example, McLean’s average of 8.62 passes into the final third is far and away the best among Aberdeen’s midfielders. While the man who sits second on that list is none other than Shinnie, with 6.38 passes per game.
The club captain also makes more defensive actions and interceptions than any other Aberdeen midfielder on average per game this season. While McLean tends to make more aerial challenges than any other Aberdeen player in the middle of the park. Whichever way you look at it, both of these players in the centre of the pitch are just about impossible to replace for Aberdeen and should cause serious issues for McInnes on Saturday.
As such, it certainly seems as though the home side enjoy much of the advantage ahead of Saturday’s game. Not only will Motherwell have their key forward and a slight head-to-head record over Aberdeen to use to their advantage, but they’ll also be facing a side in desperate need of their two, key players in the middle of the park.