Tactics Zone - what Hibs and Hearts can learn ahead of Old Firm fixture swap

A problem shared ... both Naismith and Montgomery have work to do ahead of weekend. A problem shared ... both Naismith and Montgomery have work to do ahead of weekend.
A problem shared ... both Naismith and Montgomery have work to do ahead of weekend.

Rivalry prohibits anything beyond minimal courtesies in a controlled environment. Should the respective managers of Hibs and Hearts break protocol by exchanging notes – and troubles – over the coming days, however, it’s not difficult to imagine the tone of this hypothetical conversation.

You know the famous Four Yorkshireman sketch, its central recurring gag involving each trying to outdo the other with details of their brutally impoverished upbringing? Nick Montgomery and Steven Naismith could top that slice of comic misery just by comparing gripes over VAR.

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His Leeds roots notwithstanding, Monty might even find himself stumped by Naismith – never slow to raise a complaint – declaring: “A foul in the build-up to one of the goals you say? Ee, you had it lucky. Wait until you see the penalty awarded against us …”

The Edinburgh clubs have a straight swap of fixtures this weekend, with Hibs hosting Celtic – fresh from their 4-1 win at Tynecastle – and Hearts travelling to Ibrox, venue of Saturday’s 4-0 defeat for their capital rivals.

Montgomery will know his team are in for a test as the champions and league leaders arrive at Easter Road in blistering form; their six-game winning run in the Scottish Premiership is warning enough to any challengers.

Looking at their win in Gorgie, it’s obvious that the Hoops are flying. And, as we’ve come to expect, it’s their perpetual movement that is causing opponents the biggest problems.

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Photo 1
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While Matt O’Riley rightly took the plaudits for his opener, Photos 1 and 2 show how the movement of Reo Hatate – in orange boots – pulls Frankie Kent just a couple of yards out of position, creating the space to be exploited.

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Hatate was again key to the second goal (see Photo 3), driving into the gap to generate the chance of Daizen Maeda. As ever, it’s the men in motion who bamboozle defenders.

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Photo 3

How do Hibs approach the challenge, then? As ambitious as Montgomery might be, getting into a battle of attacking wills with Celtic is never going to be a fair fight. Not against a team who rank at or near the top of the rankings in every metric that matters.

Compared to everyone else in the league, the title holders generate more shots, more goals, more expected goals, more touches in the opposition box, more final third entries, more bodies running off markers, more … well, everything, really.

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Can they be harried out of their rhythm? If you’re willing to take a chance. Possibly. Maybe.

Photo 4 shows how Hearts gambling on the press paid off, at least once, as they committed three players to squeezing first Joe Hart and then Liam Scales, who ends up over-hitting his pass and turning over possession. Look at the space left by this approach, though, and you’ll understand exactly how much trouble Naismith’s men might have been in, had Scales been more accurate.

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Looking through footage from both games involving the Edinburgh clubs over the weekend, both managed to do some good things. And the bad stuff? A lot of it is easily fixed on the training ground.

Among the things for Hibs to reflect upon – and Hearts to take note of – are a couple of obvious tactical points.

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Photo 5
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First, Hibs actually did get a bit of joy by stretching play across the entire width of the pitch (see Photo 5), pulling the Rangers back four out of shape and opening up a channel for Dylan Vente to explore (Photo 6). They ended up with a shot on target from this passage of play.

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Photo 6

On the other side of the ball, the one that needs to be spot-on to avoid a hammering, Rangers’ repeated ability to break that final line won’t have pleased Montgomery. And will have put Naismith on guard.

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Photos 7 and 8 both illustrate how straightforward it was for the Rangers front three to generate promising entry points into the final third, while Photo 9 shows young Rory Whittaker forced to keep an eye on his winger – leaving an inviting gap in behind.

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Photo 9

On Saturday and Sunday, then, neither Hibs nor Hearts will have their problems to seek. Against opponents averaging somewhere between 18 and 19 shots per game, they’re both likely to be under pressure for periods of play.

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But at least they’ll know what’s coming. Without the need for Monty and Naisy to get together for a group therapy session.

John Greechan is a UEFA-qualified coach with a Certificate in Advance Tactical Analysis from Barca Innovation Hub Universitas, among other coaching and analysis qualifications.

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