Hearts vs RangersScottish Premiership, KO: 12:15 Oct 20, 2019, Tynecastle
RANGERS may have reached the summit of the Scottish Premiership prior to the international break, however, the Ibrox side could well find themselves back in second spot by the time they take to the field at Tynecastle on Sunday afternoon.
With all due respect to Ross County, Champions Celtic should see off the Staggies on Saturday and leapfrog rivals Rangers before their lunchtime clash in the capital with Hearts less than 24 hours later.
Rangers have responded admirably to their Old Firm defeat last month, having racked up four league wins in a row and thumping in 17 goals in the process – giving the Gers an awesome goals per-game average of 4.25.
Such scintillating form, coupled with Celtic's recent travel sickness, has seen the Bears climb to the top of the league and in doing so they have announced themselves as genuine title contenders this season.
Hearts on the other hand are hovering above the bottom of the table following a calamitous start to their campaign.
The Jambos have only chalked up one win thus far – an Edinburgh derby success at Easter Road – and that solitary victory is Craig Levein's only Scottish Premiership triumph in his last 16 attempts – a shocking sequence that stretches all the way back to last Spring.
Having already failed to defeat Ross County, Hamilton, Motherwell and Kilmarnock at Tynecastle this term, the Gorgie faithful haven't witnessed a home win in the league since March – and it will take a monumental effort to stop the rot against Rangers on Sunday.
Meanwhile, red-hot Rangers are odds-on favorites at 4/11 (Ladbrokes) to make it five league wins on the spin and once again finish the weekend top of the Scottish Premiership.
Such a short price for an away win here is unsurprising given that Rangers are the top-flights top-scorers as well as the fact that they possess the leanest defence in the division.
Furthermore, Steven Gerrard has the luxury of rotating two free-scoring forwards – namely, Alfredo Morelos and Jermain Defoe – who between them have banged in 26 goals in all competitions to date.
Defoe done the damage last time out when he hit a hat-trick against Hamilton, however, whether or not the veteran striker gets the nod against Hearts remains to be seen.
Instead, Gerrard may opt for top-goalscorer Morelos and the Colombian may be better equipped to deal with the physical battle that Levein's team will present.
What's more, Morelos will relish such a challenge and given the fact that Hearts have shipped eight goals in their last four games at home – an average of two per-game – I fancy the Rangers talisman to add to his goal tally of 14 at Tynecastle on Sunday.
Morelos is 10/3 (Bet 365) to score the opener in Edinburgh, however, with defenders and midfielders regularly hitting the back of the net for Rangers I would be more inclined to opt for Morelos to score anytime at 19/20 (UniBet)
Furthermore, Hearts have a heavy injury list and a rearguard without Craig Halkett and John Soutar could well find Rangers too hot to handle.
With that in mind, value could lie in the card markets for this encounter – even more so with card-happy Kevin Clancy taking charge of this tussle.
Clancy averaged almost five cards per-game in the top-flight last term and during his controversial display at Easter Road recently whilst officiating Hibs' 1-1 draw with Celtic, Clancy dished out an eye-catching eight yellow cards.
After coming in for much criticism for that display, Clancy may be a bit more lenient on Sunday, however, he will more than likely have to get his notebook out at some stage.
There are several candidates to consider for a card and one option I'm attracted to is the 7/2 (Bet 365) on offer for Hearts midfielder Glenn Whelan to be cautioned.
The Irish warhorse has picked up plenty of bookings during his career and the tough-tackling midfielder looks overpriced to have his name taken against Gerrard's goal-hungry Gers.
Yet, although Rangers have been winning with fluency in recent weeks, I suspect they may have to roll up their sleeves for this capital clash.
Indeed, Hearts are in the midst of a miserable run of form, however, a packed out Tyncastle crowd will get behind their team and that coupled Levein's notoriously negative tactics may require Rangers to be patient whilst seeking a breakthrough.
If Rangers are to mount a sustained title challenge this season then they will have to successfully negotiate awkward assignments such as this one, and although I expect them to do just that on Sunday, the visitors may have to dig deep – much like they did on the road at Kilmarnock, St Mirren and Livingston in recent times.
Therefore, an alternative angle to consider in sourcing some value from an away win could be to combine Rangers to win and under 4.5 goals at 8/11 (Betway) – a combination that would have generated profit from all five of the Ibrox sides domestic away games this season to date.
This Scottish Premiership match between Hearts and Rangers will be played on Oct 20, 2019 and kick off at 12:15