CELTIC looked back to their best in a first-half demolition of Hearts on Tuesday night. They couldn't maintain the pace in the second half but could easily have won more comfortably than the 3-1 scoreline suggested. The signs are ominous for the rest of the league.
Even with the likes of Griffiths, Roberts, Rogic and Armstrong injured, Celtic still have an abundance of talent going forward. Dembele and Edouard got themselves on the scoresheet and centre-back Dedryck Boyata weighed in too. Brendan Rodgers used an unfamiliar 4-4-2 formation which morphed in to 3-5-2 when Celtic attacked. He may well revert to just one-up front at Rugby Park however.
Saturday's hosts Kilmarnock have been reformed under the stewardship of Steve Clarke. They suffered only their second defeat last weekend, a 3-1 reverse at Aberdeen, since he took over the hotseat in the middle of October. Prior to his arrival the club had picked up just three points from their opening eight games. They've now amassed 26 and are just two points outside the top six with two games in hand.
Clarke led his troops to a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park in October, although it should be noted that Brendan Rodgers' line-up that day suggested their Champions League match against Bayern Munich that week was the more important fixture. Nevertheless Clarke found a way to stifle the Hoops and will no doubt set-up to frustrate the champions once again.
Rodgers also fielded an unfamiliar team in Celtic's 2-0 win at Rugby Park in August, when it took an 88th minute goal by Callum McGregor to wrap up the points. Although I think the Celts' gaffer will go with a reasonably strong starting XI it could still be a tight affair in the lunchtime kick-off.
First Ten Minutes
1/4 on the Celtic win is just too short. At that price I'd rather be on no goal inside the first ten minutes. Both Celtic's openers against Killie this season have come after 40 mins and these early kick-offs can be notoriously slow to start so my first leg will be a goal-less opening 10 minutes.
As highlighted last week, Celtic are second only to Hibernian in the corner count per match. They always play with natural width on the wings, and although they seldom “hit the byline” their domination of games and number of shots per match always make corners likely. They notched nine in the 1-1 draw versus Killie earlier in the season and average 7.17 away from home. Add over 6.5 corners for the away side.
Kilmarnock's reliance on goals from Kris Boyd could yet be their undoing. The hitman has scored all of Killie's last six goals but despite scoring over 250 goals in Scotland he's scored just once against Celtic. If the Bhoys defence can keep him quiet then a clean sheet won't be far away. So ‘no' to both teams to score looks the way to go.
As far as ill-discipline goes, this is usually a benign fixture. Both sides have pretty good disciplinary records and in the last ten meetings there's been just 27 cards (no reds). The line is set at 3.5 so bet go underneath, despite slight concerns over referee Kevin Clancy who's doled out 4 cards per match this season.
Bet Builder Tip
- Under 0.5 goals in the first 10 minutes
- Over 6.5 corners for Celtic
- Both teams to score – No
- Under 3.5 cards
- Odds: 11/2 at Bet365