On 30 August, Hibernian hosted Aberdeen in what was an intense game for matchday six of the Scottish Premiership. Positioned second to Rangers in the SPFL, Hibernian were regarded as the favourites in the build-up to the game. However, the Dons faithful remained hopeful, as they’ve collected six points from their last two games.
In this match analysis, we will take a closer look at how the two sides combatted against each other’s tactics, resulting in the 1-0 scoreline for the away side. This tactical analysis will illustrate Aberdeen’s relentless, direct approach, and Hibernian’s lacklustre conversion.
Hibernian were without Alex Gogić after he tested false positive during a Covid-19 test, with two further tests coming back negative. This led to the Edinburgh side being forced to cancel their Saturday training session.
Aberdeen, on the other hand, made a few tactical changes from their previous SPFL game against Livingston. Shay Logan and Ash Taylor made way for Andy Considine and Tommy Hoban. As a result, Derek McInnes decided to play Ross McCrorie in the centre of the midfield, alongside Lewis Ferguson.
Before we discuss the tactics that dictated the result, let’s examine the fundamental performance statistics, looking at who controlled the game and who created the better chances.
The recovery chart at the top shows us Aberdeen’s determination to press and recover possession more than Hibernian for 75 minutes. In the last 15 minutes of the game, with the Dons leading, Hibs recovered the ball more than they had previously. It’s common for teams who recover the ball more than their opponents to create the better chances, because of the increased amount of time spent with the ball.
The duels win rate provides an accurate insight into the comprehensive battles throughout the 90 minutes. Aberdeen lead across the entire match, and, interestingly, the chart suggests the Dons dominated duels during the 31-45+ minutes. This is reflected in the expected goals (xG) dynamics chart, where Aberdeen’s xG continued to increase in contrast to Hibernian’s, which remained at 0.27 until the final minutes of the game.
Last but not least, cast your eyes toward the ball possession graph. It provides us with a brief understanding of the team in control during certain moments of the game. Hibernian were on top for the first 15 minutes, however, Aberdeen fought back and controlled the play for the next 15. It had been a tight game up until this point. If we combine what we’ve spoken about above with the last 15 minutes of the first half, we understand that, despite the evenly shared possession, Aberdeen’s superior duelling ability enabled them to create more chances.
The Dons started the first 15 of the second half with more possession and higher recoveries. The final 30 minutes saw Aberdeen forfeit possession and press less, as is evident in the charts above. They successfully dropped deep and defended the space. Despite Hibernian’s large amount of possession, they were unable to create chances and dominate duels.
In summary, Hibernian started well but didn’t create much for the remainder of the match, whereas Aberdeen struggled initially, but went on to dominate throughout. Now, we will look at the tactics deployed by both sides throughout moments of the game below.
The first 15 minutes were dictated by Hibernian. Aberdeen struggled to prevent Hibs from penetrating through their midfield unit. Below we’ll look at how the Edinburgh side dictated early, but also how they lacked defensive discipline, which led to the first goal.
Above, Hibernian have made a huge effort to support the ball carrier. However, the winger in this instance crosses the ball too early. The striker gets in front of his marker, and the second striker attacks the box late. This pulls out the Aberdeen right centre half, freeing space for the left-winger attacking the back post to move into.
The attacking midfielder provides an option to play inside, and the right centre-back provides an option to play the ball back. Secondly, Hibernian set up for the transition. Notice how their deep-lying midfielders’ are positioned in the white rectangle, which means that, should the ball be cleared by Aberdeen, they can pounce onto it and win it back immediately.
It was Hibernian’s staggered forwards that created problems for Aberdeen. They created a central overload which Ferguson and McCrorie couldn’t dictate. The Hibs forwards dropped between the lines, pulling defenders out of position. The picture above displays this. Note how one drifts wide, another drops deep, and the third stays high. In this example, the ball is played into the dropping forward. He lets it run through, creating an opportunity for his teammate.
Aberdeen fixed the problem shortly after by tightening up the space between the defence and midfield. Moreover, McCrorie dropped slightly deeper and protected the space in front of his backline. He was excellent for the remainder of the game. As a result, he won the ‘Man of the Match’ award, and you can see from this analysis why that was.
Having fixed their defensive vulnerability, Aberdeen established control and built up significant attacks. The picture above is their best chance created during a dominant period of possession.
However, the goal-scoring opportunity was a result of poor defending. The Hibernian defenders left their line, lunging into tackles. Ryan Hedges, the number 11 in possession, skips past defenders with ease, before playing in Scott Wright.
Throughout the game, Aberdeen intensively pressed the Hibernian backline, which paid off in the closing minutes of the first half. In the image above, Hibernian’s Martin Boyle attempts to beat the press by dribbling back into his box instead of clearing. Aberdeen press him from all sides as he attempts to play out. The Dons pinch the ball before being clipped by Boyle’s follow-through.
The second-half included more of the same from Aberdeen. Hibernian struggled to cope with the Dons’ intensity and compact shape. As a result, they created very little and lost the game 1-0.
Above is an example of Aberdeen’s second half-press. Their angled runs encouraged Hibernian to pass into areas of the pitch where Aberdeen had more men. Hibs beat the press at times by quickly switching play.
However, it came to very little, because Aberdeen were quick to move across and tightly defend the space in their half.
As we mentioned, Aberdeen did a good job of compacting the spaces where Hibernian tried to play through. This is what you can see in the picture above. Nine Aberdeen players can be spotted in one small section of the picture, and, as a result, Hibernian had very few touches on the ball, and lacked the quality to play their way through.
This match revealed an adaptable tactical performance by Aberdeen. Off the ball, the Dons made themselves hard to break down, as they were organised, dominated individual battles and pressed effectively. On the ball, they played on the front foot, and were comfortable in possession, creating the more significant chances. Hibernian, despite playing a similar system, off the ball lacked discipline and structure. On the ball, they created early, but never converted.
Ultimately, the Edinburgh side’s poor performance was the result of individual errors. The SPFL now takes an international break, which will be welcomed by Hibs manager Jack Ross, who formerly managed EFL side Sunderland, as it provides time for them to reflect and improve. However, the same can’t be said for Derek McInnes’s side, who could potentially lose the momentum they have built up after three successive wins.