Why Lee Johnson might change up Hibs formation for visit of Rangers
Hibs host Rangers on Saturday on Scottish Premiership duty but they will do so without a number of key players.
An update issued by the Easter Road side on Wednesday confirmed that, while Rocky Bushiri and Josh Campbell will return after missing the 2-1 defeat by Livingston, Lee Johnson will still be without long-term absentees Kyle Magennis, Aiden McGeady, and Kevin Nisbet while the game will also come too soon for Demetri Mitchell and Lewis Stevenson.
Elias Melkersen picked up an ankle knock in West Lothian, forcing him off during the fist and while the injury is not as bad as first feared, he is a doubt for the weekend.
With Jair Tavares hooked at half-time, it remains to be seen if the Portuguese winger keeps his place in the starting XI.
A change in formation
Regardless of what Johnson opts to do in terms of personnel, there remains a chance that he could switch formation from the 4-2-3-1 that he has used in the first three Scottish Premiership games.
It could be argued that the available personnel don’t really suit a 4-2-3-1 set-up anyway – and Hibs have mostly tended to line up with a back three when facing Rangers’ 4-3-3 in recent seasons.
There are enough centre-backs to play a three-man defence and the formation has been tried out by Johnson, most recently in the second half of the Norwich City friendly. As for the midfield, it depends on whether Johnson wants to play a flat 3-5-2 or a more fluid set-up because – as he keeps reminding us – he’s not too fussed about formations.
Who plays in a 3-5-2?
Assuming Johnson opts for his strongest available players, David Marshall is a shoe-in to start in goals, while the obvious first-choice back three would be Rocky Bushiri, Paul Hanlon, and Ryan Porteous and Čabraja and Cadden would take the wingback slots.
Up top, Élie Youan will surely keep his place. The Frenchman has two assists from his last two games and doesn’t look too far away from opening his account for Hibs.
In terms of a partner the correct answer is Martin Boyle. We still don’t know if the Australian internationalist has enough in the tank for 90 minutes but his impact was clear to see against Hearts and Livingston. His pace combined with Youan’s physicality could make for a good partnership.
Midfield is trickier. Nohan Kenneh will likely start, but who takes the remaining slots? With Josh Campbell in contention and Jake Doyle-Hayes, Ewan Henderson, and Joe Newell available, there are several options. A combination of Campbell, Doyle-Hayes, and Newell seems unlikely given the lack of success the trio had in the Premier Sports Cup defeat by Falkirk while Henderson’s creativity would be missed if he started on the bench.
Stick or twist?
Johnson has already proven that he will make drastic changes if the situation demands it, whether it be a quadruple substitution at half-time or changing formation mid-game, so it’s not unthinkable that he might opt for a different approach this weekend.
Then again, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him try to match Rangers – or even stick with the 4-2-3-1.
That element of the unknown could work in the Easter Road side’s favour, but Johnson will also need his players to sharpen their game if they are to get a positive result.