Hearts suffered a sore 3-1 defeat at Tynecastle when Aberdeen visited on September 20, but we’ve come up with five good reasons why the Jambos can turn the tables when second hosts third at Pittodrie this Saturday lunchtime.
• Aberdeen aren’t in as good form as they were at Tynecastle
When Aberdeen rocked up at Tynecastle back in September, they had won every single league match, slaying champions Celtic in the process. Derek McInnes’ men were drunk on confidence, playing free-flowing football and defending stoutly. They are not in as good a shape this time around. Their aura of invincibility has been punctured by defeats throughout October and early November, their defence has shipped goals at home - remember St Johnstone’s wacky 5-1 win at Pittodrie? - and captain Ryan Jack isn’t fully fit after injury. They are still a dangerous team as shown by winning three of their past four matches, but it’s incomparable to the sky-high swagger they had when they mimicked Barcelona for 45 minutes at Tynecastle.
• Hearts have improved defensively
The Jambos’ backline has improved significantly since they were carved open at will by the Dons last time. They have conceded only four goals in the past eight league matches since the teams’ previous meeting. Part of that is down to Blazej Augustyn and Igor Rossi forming a strong centre-half partnership since captain Alim Ozturk got injured, with Rossi in particular proving one of the best defenders in the Premiership. Juwon Oshaniwa and Callum Paterson are gradually getting to grips with the defensive side of things as full-backs, while Jordan McGhee offers good cover across all positions. The midfield’s role cannot be discounted too, as Miguel Pallardo is now up to speed fitness-wise and screens the defence intelligently.
• Osman Sow is now in form
The Swede was one of Hearts’ better performers in Hearts’ 3-1 loss at Tynecastle, but he was still pretty toothless as a lone striker in a peculiar formation that saw Juanma and Gavin Reilly operate on the wings. Recently though, Sow has found his mojo. Four goals in his past six games, including a contender for goal of the season at Motherwell last time out, shows that the former Crystal Palace man means business, and his partnership with Juanma is getting better with every game. Hearts will be much sharper in attack than they were last time against McInnes’ men.
• The emergence of Arnaud Djoum
Arnaud Djoum wasn’t even a Hearts player when Hearts played Aberdeen last time, but it’s clear his arrival has made a big difference since he signed at the end of September. He can play either on the right-hand side of midfield or in the centre, is diligent, controlled, tough and can score goals. Hearts’ midfield has operated much better with him in it and he’ll be a difficult foe for Jack, Willo Flood and Kenny McLean to get to grips with.
• Robbie Neilson won’t play as expansively
Aberdeen are at their best when teams attack them. Their goals at Tynecastle on September came via counter-attacks and they relish using the pace of Jonny Hayes, Niall McGinn and Peter Pawlett to expose space in behind defenders. Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson, as the away team and more savvy to Aberdeen’s tactics, is likely to set Hearts up in a much deeper, rigid 4-4-2 on Saturday. They will not be nearly as gung-ho as at Tynecastle and are likely to force Aberdeen into coming at them rather than vice-versa.