Rangers vs HeartsScottish League Cup, KO: 15:00 Nov 3, 2019, Hampden Park
HEARTS are in the midst of a horrifying run of form that has seen them get dragged towards the basement zone of the Scottish Premiership – and on Halloween the axe finally fell on Craig Levein.
Levein came in for a severe and sustained amount of pressure from the Jambos faithful due to a combination of ropey results and turgid tactics and Wednesday nights pitiful 1-0 defeat in Perth against St Johnstone proved to be the final straw for the Hearts hierarchy.
Many considered Levein to be bulletproof under Hearts owner Anne Budge's watch and as such the former Scotland managers sacking came as a shock – even more so three days before a Betfred Cup semi-final clash with Rangers at Hampden.
Assistant manager Austin MacPhee will take charge of the Men in Maroon in Mount Florida and he will be given the thankless task of trying to formulate a plan to thwart a Rangers side who are desperately craving silverware.
Rangers have made giant strides under Steven Gerrard's stewardship and although the Liverpool legend has made the Light Blues competitive at home and on the continent, the Ibrox faithful are itching for a first major trophy in eight years.
Given the fluency and ferocity that both the Old Firm are playing with this season it's difficult to envisage all of Scotland's major honours not being gobbled up by the two Glasgow giants this term.
Ross County were the latest victims of the Old Firm juggernaut when they were beaten 4-0 in their own backyard by the Bears on Wednesday night and the bookmakers believe that Rangers will comfortably rubber stamp their first League Cup final ticket since 2011 by making Gerard's men big favourites at 3/10 (UniBet) to win this battle.
However, Hearts will take confidence from their performance against Rangers a fortnight ago when they held the Ibrox side to a 1-1 draw and a repeat of that outcome pays 9/2 (Betfred) and the Tynecastle team are a towering 11/1 (William Hill) to triumph in normal time.
Such lofty odds for the capital club to cause an upset are hardly surprising given that Hearts have only won two leagues games since March, not to mention they have only managed to score once in their last five league games – a Ryotaro Meshino goal against Rangers.
Meanwhile, Gerrard's Gers have banged in 17 goals in the same stretch of games and they are averaging three goals per-game in the Scottish Premiership.
After bagging a double in Dingwall in midweek, Alfredo Morelos took his tally for the season to 18 and the Rangers striker will be aiming to hit the back of the net against Hearts yet again this weekend after scoring at Tynecastle two Sundays ago.
I successfully tipped the Rangers talisman to score when these two sides last met and the Colombian came up trumps for me again in midweek against Ross County and given Morelos's red-hot form I think that's a punt that could prove to be profitable again on Sunday.
Morelos is 3/1 (Bet 365) to notch the opening goal in the national stadium, however, given that defenders and midfielders are regularly chipping in with goals for free-scoring Rangers, I would be more inclined to side with Morelos to score anytime at a tempting 17/20 (UniBet)
Hearts will be hard tasked in trying to shackle Morelos and Co and with that in mind, it may be worth dipping into the card markets – four Jambos were cautioned in the recent tussle between these two teams in Gorgie.
I struck gold a fortnight ago when I tipped Glenn Whelan to have his name taken against Rangers and I could see the combative midfielder committing another cynical foul on Sunday that could land him in referee John Beaton's notebook.
The Irish warhorse returned from injury in midweek when he came off the bench and given his experience he is expected to be restored to the starting XI for this Hampden showdown where he looks overpriced at 3/1 (Bet 365) to pick up a card against a slick Rangers side.
What's more, Rangers will be a far tougher proposition this weekend where they will have the backing of the majority of the Hampden crowd and that coupled with the Gers determination to avoid another semi-final setback points towards a return to this venue for the blue half of Glasgow next month.
Backing Rangers to dot a Betfred Cup final on their calendar won't make you rich, however, an alternative angle that I do like the look of is to combine Rangers to score two or more goals and for Rangers to take five or more corners which is priced at 4/5 (Betfred) – a combination that would have returned profit in six of Rangers last seven Scottish Premiership matches.
This Scottish League Cup match between Rangers and Hearts will be played on Nov 3, 2019 and kick off at 15:00