Hearts v Celtic preview: Haring fitness, formation change, who starts in midfield?

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Hearts take on Celtic at BT Murrayfield on Sunday in the first semi-final of the 2018 Betfred Cup.

Both sides have lengthy injury lists and are coming into the match on the back of midweek games - the Jambos recording a 3-0 win on the road at Dundee on Tuesday while the Hoops lost 2-0 to RB Leipzig on Europa League duty on Thursday night.

Hearts would get a big boost from Peter Haring if the Austrian is fit to play. Picture: SNS Group

Hearts would get a big boost from Peter Haring if the Austrian is fit to play. Picture: SNS Group

Peter Haring should be fit for selection, although the Austrian is nursing a hernia complaint and sat out the victories over Aberdeen and Dundee.

His presence in the midfield would be a boost for Hearts, although Arnaud Djoum’s return to fitness and the performances of Oliver Bozanic and Olly Lee in recent weeks gives Craig Levein a welcome selection dilemma.

So, too, the form of Steven Naismith and Steven MacLean. One would likely miss out if the Hearts boss tweaks his formation and goes with one up front, as suggested by Craig Fowler in his tactical preview of the match.

Levein has been impressed with how Clevid Dikamona and Jimmy Dunne have linked up in defence in the absence of Christophe Berra and John Souttar and is likely to start the pair on Sunday with Demetri Mitchell and Michael Smith on either side.

If fit, Haring could patrol the area between defence and midfield with a quartet of Callumn Morrison, Olly Lee, Oliver Bozanic and Arnaud Djoum ahead of him, with Naismith as the lone striker.

Hearts’ strength in depth is evident when looking at their potential substitutes, even with the absence of Christophe Berra, John Souttar, Uche Ikpeazu and Jamie Brandon through injury.

Colin Doyle will assume back-up goalie duties while Ben Garuccio, Marcus Godinho and Aaron Hughes can provide defensive options. Reserve midfielders will be taken from Sean Clare, Harry Cochrane, Jake Mulraney, Anthony McDonald and Danny Amankwaa while Steven MacLean can provide an attacking option from the bench.

It’s a different story for Celtic, who have several injury worries along with Dedryck Boyata’s suspension. Kristoffer Ajer, Scott Brown, Nir Bitton and Mikey Johnston are all out while Cristian Gamboa and Jozo Simunovic both sustained injuries on Europa League duty. Filip Benkovic could return to the starting XI having been an unused sub in Germany and Brendan Rodgers is likely to play Jack Hendry alongside him at the heart of defence.

Rodgers could face a headache in terms of filling his bench, and could be forced to turn to some of Celtic’s reserve teamers.

Leigh Griffiths is also a doubt, having missed the 4-2 win over Hibs and the Leipzig match, while Youssouf Mulumbu is also struggling with injury, according to reports. Tom Rogic didn’t travel to Germany but is expected to return to the starting line-up.

Injuries / suspensions / unavailable

Hearts - Hearts have no suspensions but are without Christophe Berra, Jamie Brandon, Uche Ikpeazu and John Souttar. Craig Wighton is cuptied, having played and scored for Dundee earlier in the competition.

Celtic - Dedryck Boyata is suspended, while Kristoffer Ajer, Nir Bitton, Scott Brown and Mikey Johnston are definitely out injured. They could be joined on the sidelines by Cristian Gamboa, Jozo Simunovic and Leigh Griffiths.

Magic number

20 - the number of games Hearts went without beating Celtic, between April 2012 and December 2017.

Key battle

Steven Naismith will have to use all of his nous and big game experience to terrorise Jack Hendry in the Celtic defence - but the Hoops stopper will be desperate to put in a performance of his own and stake a claim for a regular starting berth given Celtic’s injury woes in central defence.

Key stats

Hearts have won two of their last four matches against Celtic, both at Tynecastle. The emphatic - and run-ending - 4-0 win last season, and the 1-0 victory earlier this season. In recent history, Celtic and Hearts have met four times on League Cup duty, with Celtic winning twice at Tynecastle - and Hearts winning twice at Parkhead.

Referee

Willie Collum takes charge of this fixture. The 39-year-old whistler has taken charge of 56 Celtic matches during his career, with the Hoops winning 41, drawing six and losing nine.

He has shown 81 yellow cards and four reds in that time, and awarded 16 penalties. Although he’s refereed fewer games involving Hearts - 49 - he’s shown 98 yellow cards and sent off ten, while awarding ten penalties.

Possible teams

Hearts: Zlamal; M Smith, Dikamona, Dunne, Mitchell; Haring; Morrison, Lee, Bozanic, Djoum; Naismith. Subs from: Doyle, Garuccio, Hughes, Godinho, Cochrane, McDonald, Clare, Mulraney, Amankwaa, MacLean.

Celtic: Gordon; Lustig, Hendry, Benkovic, Tierney; Ntcham, Kouassi; Forrest, Rogic, McGregor; Edouard. Subs from: Bain, Ralston, Izaguirre, Hayes, Mulumbu, Henderson, Christie, Morgan, Sinclair, Arzani, Griffiths.

Kick-off: 1.30pm