Hibs v Hearts: The likely Edinburgh derby starting XIs
GK - Ofir Marciano
The Israeli, when fit, is undoubtedly the club’s No.1. Many Hibs fans have credited his saves from Esmael Goncalves and Bjorn Johnsen in the first game for keeping them in the cup.
RB - David Gray; DC - Darren McGregor; DC - Liam Fontaine; LB - Lewis Stevenson
Without the injured Paul Hanlon and Jordon Forster, this Hibs backline pretty much picks itself. Fontaine may have felt harshly treated having been omitted from the first game at Tynecastle, but he didn’t let that affect his performance, putting in a terrific second half cameo after coming off the bench.
If Hibs line up in a narrow diamond, as is expected, Gray and Stevenson become vital to the outcome of the match. Hearts like to use their full backs to provide width, as the wide midfielders drift inside. The Hibs full backs will need to know when to go out and close, and when to keep the defensive shape. They’ll also be looking to attack swiftly and effectively when the opportunity is there, and try to pin back their opposite numbers.
Meanwhile, if McGregor plays like he did in the same fixture last year, Hibs will surely fancy their chances.
MC - Fraser Fyvie; DM - Marvin Bartley; AM - Andrew Shinnie; MC - John McGinn
Big games against dangerous opponents brings out the best in Bartley, so he’s a definite to start. The same can probably be said of Fyvie for similar reasons. The ex-Aberdeen man did not have a good game against Raith Rovers at the weekend, but he’s sure to keep his place. He sometimes struggles to make things happen in possession, which was evident in the second half at Tynecastle. But despite that, he still proved his worth to the team in that particular match by working hard and scrapping for every ball, and not allowing the Hearts players to get settled.
John McGinn is the leader of the Hibs midfield. He dictates play on the ball and is a terrier when the other team have it. Similar to McGregor, it’s hard to imagine him having a man-of-the-match display and Hibs losing.
We’ve gone for Shinnie at the tip mainly because of the poor form of James Keatings, who struggled in both the last derby and Saturday’s draw at Stark’s Park. Neither player fills Hibs fans with much confidence.
One wildcard we could see is Chris Humphrey, who’s fallen out of favour since his storming debut against Dundee United. The winger has terrific pace, and with the bigger pitch at Easter Road, along with Hearts’ tendency to push forward the full-backs, he could have a lot of space in which to run into. If he does start, Hibs would likely change the formation to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrid.
FC - Jason Cummings; FC - Grant Holt
Lennon seems to have a real love/hate relationship with Cummings and he’s not over dropping the young striker just to prove a point. However, seeing as this is one of the biggest games of the season, and will likely be considered the single biggest game in the eyes of the fans, it would be madness to make that point now. Cummings is the only player who’s a consistent goal threat in the Hibs team. And he loves doing it against Hearts.
Holt will come back in for Brian Graham. It’s more than likely that the veteran’s omission from the starting XI for the trip to Raith was purely to give him some rest ahead of this encounter. He thrived in the first game and will once again be up for a fight with the opposition.
GK - Jack Hamilton
Fans are a little uneasy about the young goalkeeper playing in his first derby at Easter Road, but the general consensus from those who’ve watched both players is that he’s a better choice than substitute Viktor Noring.
DR - Andraz Struna; DC - Tasos Avlonitis; DC - Aaron Hughes; DL - Lennard Sowah
Similar to Hibs, the back four pretty much picks itself. It’s not the most robust of defensive units, or the quickest, but they’ve meshed together very well since starting the 3-0 win over Motherwell.
Against Hibs they got the match-ups just right. Avlonitis would square off against Holt, and while the Hibs striker did a good job of stopping his opponent from getting clean headed clearances during their aerial battles, he still didn’t win as many flick-ons as Hibs would have liked. Hughes, meanwhile, did a good job at corralling Cummings, who often had to chase long balls into the corners to free himself of the shackles.
Struna is the obvious first-choice pick at right back, while Sowah seems to be preferred in the eyes of Ian Cathro over Faycal Rherras. The latter is more dependable on the ball going forward, though there isn’t much difference between them in terms of attacking prowess overall, and Sowah is the much better defender, especially in terms of positioning.
MR - Don Cowie; MC - Perry Kitchen; AM - Arnaud Djoum; MC - Alexandros Tziolis; ML - Jamie Walker
Aside from Tziolis, it’s hard to imagine a nailed-on starter in the Hearts midfield. Cowie is returning from bruised ribs, Kitchen has been in and out of the line-up, and while Djoum and Walker should both play, neither has been immune from being dropped, including this past weekend where Walker was left on the bench from the start. Sam Nicholson and Choulay are both in contention as well, if Hearts want to go with a natural wide man.
Kitchen will probably start alongside Tziolis. Once viewed as the sitting man of the Hearts midfield, he’s starting to embrace a more box-to-box role, and played very well against Caley Thistle in the last game.
If he’s fit and it’s not just smoke and mirrors, which Hearts have previous for prior to derby games - the Osman Sow bluff prior to the 2-2 game last year - then Cowie will definitely start. His energy is just too important in this kind of game.
It’s a midfield four lacking width, but, as mentioned earlier, Hearts push their full-backs high to make up for that. With both Kitchen and Tziolis providing protection for the two centre-backs, it’ll allow Cowie and Walker to roam inside, where they do their best work.
FC - Esmael Goncalves
It’s only been four games but it’s already easy to see the strengths and weaknesses of Goncalves. Strong, quick feet, burst of pace, and a tendency to make the wrong decision. He’ll either have the Hearts fans tearing their hair out, or they’ll be chanting his name come the full-time whistle.
The alternative would be to station him alongside Bjorn Johnsen. It is certainly a possibility, seeing as Cathro went to a 4-4-2 at half-time in the last derby after bringing Johnsen off the bench, where Hearts had their strongest period of the game. But Johnsen’s poor form of late will probably restrict his role to that of a second half substitute.