36 years have passed since any team outside of the Rangers or Celtic has won the Scottish top flight. While it’s still too early in the season to conclusively call a winner outside of the two giants, Hearts nonetheless have taken giant strides and have been putting up performances that warrant a discussion. Before their game away at Aberdeen, Hearts were on a stretch of 11 unbeaten games. Despite losing to Aberdeen, Hearts bounced back immediately in the next game, thrashing Dundee United 5-2 and putting rest to any doubts about their intentions of challenging for the title.
Amidst the international break, Hearts occupy the third spot in the Scottish Premiership with six wins, six draws, and one loss in 13 games, two points behind Celtic and six behind Rangers. Hearts have a strong foundation of experienced players such as Liam Boyce, Craig Gordon, and Michael Smith, combined with clever recruitment of young players. Alex Cochrane, Cammy Devlin, Ben Woodburn, and Barrie Mckay have all put up brilliant performances which have aided Heart’s challenge for the league title.
Liam Boyce, in particular, has been impressive for Hearts this season, scoring six goals and providing an assist in 10 games. Nielson’s favored 3-4-3 system this season has also allowed Stephen Kinsley to find his best form. He has been deployed at the left side of Nielson’s three-man defense and has been allowed to carry the ball forward and distribute it further up the pitch. His brilliant partnership with wingback Alex Cochrane has also been an asset for Hearts.
Let’s analyze some stats from the recent game and benchmarking in order to understand Hearts’ performances so far this campaign.
Hearts were dominant in the recent match against Dundee United. Ben Woodburn scored a brace, while Cochrane, Kingsley and McEneff also found the back of the net, as the Tynecastle side produced a stunning display, winning the match 5-2. They were also impressive in terms of most of the attacking metrics. Woodburn took the highest number of shots while Taylor Moore and Stephen Kingsley both made the joint-highest number of dribbles. Cameron Devlin made eight recoveries in the opponent’s half.
Hearts’ shot map indicates they were able to penetrate Dundee United’s penalty box quite often and did not shy away from shooting. They took 22 shots in the match with 10 shots on target. Most of their shots were taken from inside the opponent box, including four of their goals. In addition, Hearts had a high xG of 2.71.
In terms of match tempo and open play possession for more than 45 seconds, Hearts are placed at the third spot in the league, indicating that they have been able to dictate the play well whenever they have held possession.
Hearts have made 30 successful smart passes so far this season which is the third-highest in the league. They have averaged more than two successful smart passes per match, a feat that further highlights their creativity and threatening passes that aid them in breaking the opposition line.
Robbie Neilson’s side would need to be consistent and replicate their brilliant performances in the upcoming games, if they are to break the stranglehold of Rangers and Celtic over the Scottish Premiership title. For now, Hearts’ league position and stats put them in strong contention to challenge for the title.