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Preview: Hearts vs. Celtic - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Scottish Premiership clash between Hearts and Celtic, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

After their nine-year tenure as Scotland's finest finally came to an end in bitterly disappointing fashion last season, Celtic will be looking to begin the 2021-22 campaign brightly when they travel to newly-promoted Hearts on Saturday evening.

The Hoops have won just one of their seven matches so far this season, including both competitive and pre-season fixtures, while the Jam Tarts have a 100% record from their six games.


Match preview

Celtic's Callum McGregor with teammates before the match in March 2021© Reuters

The 2020-21 campaign was quite simply a season to forget for Celtic fans, who had to endure a frustrating and disappointing year both on and off the pitch.

Not only did the Hoops crash out of the Europa League in the group stages, finishing rock bottom, but they also ended 25 points behind their bitter rivals Rangers at the summit of the Scottish Premiership, and failed to win any silverware for the first time in 11 years.

With significant yet much-needed changes being made over the summer, a new era has begun at Parkhead with cause for optimism going forward. Key players including Scott Brown and Kristoffer Ajer have departed as well as chief executive Peter Lawwell, who has been replaced with chief operating officer of the Scottish Rugby Union Dominic McKay.

Celtic also took their time in finding a permanent successor for Neil Lennon. After a failed three-month pursuit of Eddie Howe, they finally settled on Australian head coach Ange Postecoglou as the man to lead the club forward during the 2021-22 campaign.

New Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou pictured on July 20, 2021© Reuters

The 55-year-old's time in the dugout, however, has been far from plain sailing. The Hoops lost three of their five pre-season friendlies and their Champions League journey is already over before their domestic campaign has begun, following a 2-1 loss after extra time – 3-2 on aggregate – to FC Midtjylland in the second round of qualifying on Wednesday.

Many fingers have been pointed at the lack of reinforcements during this summer's transfer window, and even though Postecoglou would like to see more fresh faces come through the door, he has taken full responsibility for Celtic's slow start to the new campaign.

The Hoops are now fully focused on their opening game in the Scottish Premiership, with a trip to Hearts on Saturday, where they will meet for the 369th time. The two teams did not face each other last season, but they did on four occasions the year before, with Celtic winning all three league encounters and scoring 10 goals in the process.

Celtic will want to rise again and renew the fight with their Glaswegian counterparts this campaign, and a strong start against Hearts will be a good way for Postecoglou to win the fans over and to open his account in Scottish football.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson pictured on October 31, 2020© Reuters

Unlike Celtic, Hearts enjoyed a successful campaign last year after securing promotion from the Scottish Championship as title winners for the second time in seven years.

Following their relegation from a curtailed Scottish Premiership in 2019-20, the Jam Tarts bounced back by winning 17 of their 27 league matches last term, finishing 12 points clear of their nearest challengers Dundee, who were also promoted to the top-flight.

Manager Robbie Neilson, who returned to the Tynecastle dugout in October 2020, has high hopes for the new season ahead and believes his side have a real point to prove back in the big time.

The last time Hearts were promoted to the Premiership in 2014-15, they had a brilliant campaign the following year, accumulating 65 points and finishing in third place, their joint-highest top-flight finish over the last 15 years.

Hearts' Liam Boyce celebrates scoring with teammates against Hibernian on October 31, 2020© Reuters

Replicating such a successful season this time around is seemingly a tall order, though the Jam Tarts have ambitions to achieve more than just Premiership survival.

Hearts have already tasted competitive action this campaign, winning all four of their League Cup group stages matches, scoring eight goals without reply. Neilson's men finished top of Group A and have been rewarded with a second-round tie against none other than Celtic in a few weeks' time.

The Jam Tarts have only beaten Celtic twice in the league over the last decade, though both victories were on home soil. Their last was a 1-0 win in August 2018, which was their first home match of that season.

If there was ever a good time for Hearts to face Celtic, it would seem that now is their moment as the Hoops are a side in transition and certainly out of form. Neilson's side remain huge underdogs but a potential upset cannot be ruled out on Saturday.

Hearts form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • W

Celtic form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • L
  • D
  • L


Team News

Celtic's Liel Abada celebrates scoring against Midtjylland in the Champions League on July 20, 2021© Reuters

Postecoglou has a dilemma regarding who should start between the sticks, with both Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain failing to hit the heights expected by Celtic fans.

Whichever goalkeeper does start on Saturday will want to impress, as the Hoops behind the scenes are reportedly in talks to sign Tottenham Hotspur stopper Joe Hart.

Celtic will be able to welcome back Nir Bitton, who was suspended for their second-leg tie against Midtjylland in midweek, and he is likely to replace 18-year-old centre-back Dane Murray in the starting lineup.

Defender Christopher Jullien continues to recover from a long-term knee injury and wingers Mikey Johnston and Karamoko Dembele are also set to miss out, while Leigh Griffiths is doubtful with a minor problem.

Last season's top goalscorer Odsonne Edouard, who has been heavily linked with a move away this summer, is expected to start up front and could be joined in attack by Ryan Christie and new recruit Liel Abada.

As for Hearts, centre-back John Souttar was not risked in last weekend's League Cup clash with Inverness, due to a minor knock, and remains doubtful for Saturday's opening league match.

Neilson has started with a 3-4-3 formation in three of their four competitive matches so far this campaign and he will likely use this system again at Tynecastle.

Former Blackpool forward Armand Gnanduillet started the last cup game up front, but he could be dropped to the bench this weekend as Liam Boyce is set to lead the line on his own, with wingers Gary Mackay-Steven and Josh Ginnelly in support.

Former Hoops stopper Craig Gordon is expected to start in goal, with the 38-year-old yet to concede in four matches so far this campaign.

Hearts possible starting lineup:
Gordon, Souttar, Halkett, Kingsley; Smith, Haring, Halliday, Cochrane; Ginnelly, Mackay-Steven; Boyce

Celtic possible starting lineup:
Barkas, Ralston, Welsh, Bitton, Taylor; Turnbull, Soro, McGregor; Abada, Edouard, Christie


SM words green background

We say: Hearts 1-2 Celtic

After a disappointing pre-season and midweek exit from the Champions League, Postecoglou needs to grind out a positive result on Saturday to get the Celtic fans onside.

Hearts, meanwhile, are in high spirits following their promotion and 100% record in this season's League Cup, and will believe they can take advantage of the visitors' woes.

A closely-fought contest could be played out at Tynecastle, though we are predicting the Hoops to snatch a narrow victory.



Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data


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How you voted: Hearts vs Celtic

Hearts
36.4%
Draw
16.7%
Celtic
47.0%
66
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New Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou pictured on July 20, 2021
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1RangersRangers6411115613
2Hibernian6330126612
3Hearts633095412
4Motherwell632196311
5Dundee UnitedDundee Utd631234-110
6Celtic6303164129
7Aberdeen62226608
8St Johnstone613234-16
9Livingston611439-64
10St Mirren6042512-74
11Ross County6033513-83
12Dundee6033412-83

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