Why Hibs can benefit from reverting to 3-5-2 formation against Aberdeen - and who could feature
Hibs beat Aberdeen twice last season but their more convincing victory came at Easter Road with Jack Ross setting his side up in a 3-5-2 formation. It might be time to do so once more.
Of the players that started that game Christian Doidge is out injured and Jackson Irvine and Ofir Marciano are no longer at the club. However, Ross has players capable of fitting in to the same formation should he choose to mix things up at Pittodrie on Saturday.
Matt Macey will almost certainly start in goals while one of Jamie Gullan, Kevin Nisbet, or James Scott could start alongside Martin Boyle up top.
Josh Doig and Chris Cadden can operate as wingbacks with a defence comprising three of Paul Hanlon, Paul McGinn, Darren McGregor, and Nathan Wood.
The central midfield roles could be taken by Jake Doyle-Hayes and Joe Newell but Alex Gogic – who started in the 2-0 victory – is an option as is Kyle Magennis provided he is fit.
Jamie Murphy started as a ten in last season’s game but Ross also has Scott Allan, Magennis, or Scott who can all fill that role.
Why it might work again
It has been established by now that Nisbet appears far more effective in a front two rather than fulfilling the lone forward role. Although the Scotland internationalist has worked hard in the 4-2-3-1 set-up he is more of a box striker and benefits from having a partner. Added to which, when the wingers or full-backs are putting crosses into the box, they only have Nisbet to aim at, with the central midfielders neglecting to make it into the box in time to provide more bodies.
It is no coincidence that it took Nisbet fewer than ten minutes to score against Rangers from a cross while playing in a front two and Boyle might get more joy playing centrally to begin with.
In Christian Ramirez, Aberdeen have a 6ft 2in striker who has scored a third of his total goals this season with his head. Given Hibs’ propensity to lose goals from crosses, having a back three incorporating two of Hanlon, McGregor, and Wood could be beneficial at set-pieces.
Having Cadden and Doig available to switch to a back five when Hibs are defending should also help. All three of Dundee United’s goals originated from the right-hand side of the pitch and McGinn’s presence was certainly missed at right-back.
Playing the vice-captain at right centre-back should help shore things up at the back for Hibs and would also allow Ross to switch to four at the back.
Midfield dynamism and options
Provided Magennis is available, Hibs have a number of options for the two central midfielders in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 set-up. Doyle-Hayes and Newell started against United but a bit more dig might be required against a Dons midfield that might include Scott Brown, Lewis Ferguson, and Funso Ojo.
While Gogic would appear the obvious solution, the physicality brought by Magennis should not be overlooked and while he has excelled in a more advanced role so far this season, having him further back but able to support the attack with late runs into the box is exactly what Hibs have been missing during his spell on the sidelines.
Allan? Magennis? Murphy? Scott? There are numerous options for Hibs in the number ten role but the best option would appear to be either Allan or Magennis. Allan struggled to impose himself on the game against his former club last weekend but who else has those ludicrous reverse passes in their bag, or the vision to see runs others don’t?
Murphy was one of few aspects from last week approaching positive but he might be a better option off the bench late on when the Dons full-backs are tiring.
Scott might be an option in the front two or better served as a substitute option in attack.
Hibs need to score goals to win matches and they were uncharacteristically toothless in the final third last week. Nisbet appears to be crying out for a partner but might Jack Ross also spring a surprise by changing things up top?
Scott looked most involved when he played as a lone frontman against Dundee in the 2-2 draw earlier this season and he hasn’t quite had the same impact when deployed wide left or as a second striker. While not quite as effective in the air as the sidelined Doidge he did win a fair few aerial balls at Dens Park and could be a useful option from the start at Pittodrie given the size of Aberdeen’s three first-choice centre-backs in David Bates, Declan Gallagher, and Ross McCrorie.
Lining Boyle up alongside him would be a handful for any defence to deal with – the only problem is that it’s an untested partnership.
And what of Jamie Gullan? A hat-trick for the B team on Tuesday must surely mean he stands a chance of involvement on Saturday; if not from the start then potentially as an option off the bench.
What will we see?
Ultimately, Jack Ross sees the players in training and knows what set-up and personnel stands the best chance of getting a result. But there were a few times last season where we saw Hibs undone largely because the opposition sussed out their gameplan very early on.
The Easter Road boss made comments last week about his players being lazy and selfish which might indicate changes are afoot.
On current form, neither Aberdeen nor Hibs are likely to be going into this match with 100 per cent confidence but the visitors can take inspiration from their last visit to Pittodrie and look to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointment.
Whichever players are selected to do so have a stern task ahead of them – but not an impossible one.