Dangermen: The Scottish Premiership players to watch this weekend

Rangers’ clash with Celtic takes top billing in the Scottish Premiership this weekend – but there are plenty of other mouth-watering encounters to watch out for on Matchday 35.

In particular, the race for Europa Conference League qualification is hotting up, as Aberdeen and Hearts face chasers Hibernian and St Mirren, respectively.

Things are even tighter at the bottom, with relegation-threatened Ross County, Kilmarnock and Dundee United all separated by just a point.

So, which players could make the difference in a crucial gameweek across Scotland’s top flight? We’ve used Twenty3’s Smart Reports to find out…

Matthew O’Riley (Rangers vs Celtic)

This Saturday’s instalment of the Old Firm derby is sure to be as feisty as ever, despite Celtic having already wrapped up the title.

The midfield battle is likely to be key in this fixture, and few players are able to make a greater impact from central areas than Matthew O’Riley.

The 22-year-old is Celtic’s creator-in-chief, having amassed 11 Scottish Premiership assists – more than any other player in the division. 

O’Riley’s Smart Report provides a visual representation of how he has been performing from a creative point of view. 

As you can see from the passing flow visualisation, the Denmark native is constantly trying to work the ball into the box from a variety of angles.

His incisive distribution could be vital to securing all three points at Ibrox.

Kevin van Veen (St Johnstone vs Motherwell)

Kevin van Veen has been in excellent form for Motherwell this season, scoring 21 Scottish Premiership goals. 

The Steelmen have endured a disappointing campaign, but their situation has improved in recent weeks. 

Stuart Kettlewell’s outfit are unbeaten in their last two fixtures, including an impressive draw with table-toppers Celtic (1-1). 

Motherwell will be aiming to continue that positive run against St. Johnstone, where they will hope that Van Veen can make the difference once again.

The 31-year-old frontman’s numbers certainly suggest that he is capable of doing so – ranking inside the division’s top two players for goals, expected goals (xG) and shots attempted, as indicated by the table below.

Alex Iacovitti (Dundee United vs Ross County)

Bottom side Ross County face a crunch clash with fellow strugglers Dundee United on Saturday, as they look to preserve their top-tier status.

But one man the Staggies can rely on is defender Alex Iacovitti, who has been a solid performer for Malky Mackay’s team this term.

As you can see in the detailed player overview below, he has made more interceptions than any other player in the division, while ranking inside the top ten for ball recoveries and aerial duels won. 

One of the most impressive features of this Smart Report is the ability to compare his stats against another player. 

In this case, we chose Cameron Carter-Vickers, who has been an excellent performer at centre-back for Celtic. 

As you can see, there is little to separate the pair – Iacovitti actually comes out on top for interceptions and defensive duels won, though Ross County’s rearguard will have been under more sustained pressure across the campaign.

Joe Newell (Aberdeen vs Hibernian)

Hibernian are in the hunt to secure European football for next season – and they could leapfrog rivals Hearts with the right set of results this weekend. 

However, they face a tough task against third-placed Aberdeen, who had won a remarkable seven games in succession – until last week’s 1-0 defeat at Rangers.

In a game with so much on the line, Hibs will need their midfield general Joe Newell to dictate proceedings.

The 30-year-old plays in the centre of the park for Lee Johnson’s outfit, and has been their standout performer – leading his side in possession and without the ball.

As you can see from the heat map visualisation below, Hibs’ No11 is a mobile presence across the pitch, while the comparison radar shows plenty of similarities with Celtic’s Callum McGregor.

Newell ranks highly for interceptions, attacking duels won, aerial duels won, assists and expected goals, reflecting his ability to regain possession and use it effectively.

With a player this well-rounded in their ranks, Hibernian should feel confident about their trip to Pittodrie.

Lawrence Shankland (St Mirren vs Hearts)

Hearts face St Mirren on Saturday, in what promises to be a tightly-contested affair – only four points separate the sides, after all.

The visitors will no doubt be looking for their dangerman Lawrence Shankland to make the difference. 

He is having a fine season, as you can see from the rankings chart below. The 27-year-old is the division’s second-top scorer (21), only behind the brilliant Kyogo Furuhashi (24). 

Shankland has had more touches in the opposition box than any other Scottish Premiership player, which is striking given how dominant Rangers and Celtic are in an attacking sense. 

St Mirren should be well aware of the talent he possesses – he scored 10 Championship goals during a loan spell with the Buddies in 2015/16.

All the Smart Reports in this article were produced using the Twenty3 Toolbox. For more information, please get in touch below.