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Saturday 20:00: Hearts v Celtic
Sky Sports Main Event/Sky Sports Football
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Celtic could hardly have endured worse preparation for Saturday’s curtain-raiser at Tynecastle after they bowed out of the Champions League qualifiers for the fourth season running following an extra-time defeat to FC Midtjylland on Wednesday night. The narrow defeat compounded a difficult pre-season for Celtic and newly appointed manager Ange Postecoglou, who saw his side twice throw away leads against their Danish opponents over the two-legged affair.
Last season’s runners-up must now pick themselves off the canvas for a tricky trip to newly-promoted Hearts. They secured promotion back to the Scottish Premiership at a canter last season and have enjoyed a relatively successful pre-season, easily winning all four of their League Cup group fixtures without conceding a goal.
They will provide Postecoglou with a stern challenge on his league debut and the Australian manager would do well to avoid putting himself under any further pressure following Wednesday’s Champions League exit. His side should have just about enough to come away from Tynecastle with a badly needed three points, but it will be far from easy.
Celtic must pick themselves up in front of more than 4,000 Hearts fans and will doubtlessly be made to sweat on Saturday evening.
If Celtic’s pre-season has taught us anything, it is that they have failed to plug the defensive gaps that cost them on so many occasions last season. Postecoglou has overseen just one clean sheet since taking the reins at Celtic Park – a 0-0 draw with Championship side Bristol City behind closed doors.
His young and inexperienced defence have conceded in each of the other six games that they have played during July, shipping a staggering six goals in a home friendly against West Ham. Due to a combination of injuries and suspensions, Celtic’s starting back-four were all under the age of 23 on Wednesday night and it is somewhat unreasonable to think that such an inexperienced defence is capable of consistently keeping clean sheets at the highest level.
Hearts, who scored eight goals in four League Cup fixtures in July, will fancy their chances of breaching the Celtic rearguard on Saturday.
It is still unlikely that Edouard will be a Celtic player come the end of the transfer window, but the Frenchman remains Celtic’s most dangerous striker by quite a distance. Edouard’s 18 league goals last season won him the golden boot and he will hope to pique the interest of his European suitors with impressive early-season displays.
He opened his account last season with an opening day hat-trick against Hamilton and has scored on the opening day of each of his last three seasons with the club. He is by far and away the most potent forward at Celtic Park and could prove to be the difference in what should be a close affair. Edouard has scored seven career goals against Hearts and could wreak further havoc at Tynecastle on Saturday.
Celtic’s 19-year-old summer recruit has settled quickly at Celtic Park, scoring on his competitive debut to give the Bhoys the lead in their first-leg draw with FC Midtjylland last week. The Israeli winger scored 20 goals in 67 league appearances for Maccabi Petah Tikva prior to his move to Scotland and clearly has a keen eye for goal.
Abada started both legs against Midtjylland and looks a good bet to start at Tynecastle on Saturday. He excited Celtic fans with his first leg performance against the Danish side and could further endear himself to the Celtic Park faithful with a goalscoring league debut to help give Celtic the perfect start as they attempt to wrestle the Scottish title from Rangers’ grasp.
Celtic to Win
Both Teams to Score
Odsonne Edouard to Score Anytime
Liel Abada to Score Anytime
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