Hearts: Scoring, signings & the George Burley comparison

What do Hearts have in common with Juventus, Barcelona and Paris St-Germain? Each boast a 100% start to their league campaigns.

Craig Levein's men have now won 10 consecutive matches across the Scottish Premiership and the League Cup, including a 1-0 win over reigning champions Celtic.

It is a remarkable turnaround from last season, when Hearts went out of the League Cup in the group stage, deposed head coach Ian Cathro after just four games, and ultimately finished sixth in the top flight.

But how have Hearts turned their fortunes around?

Scoring more, conceding fewer

Hearts lead the Premiership by five points after five games, having beaten Hamilton Accies, Celtic, Kilmarnock, St Mirren and Motherwell.

That victory over Celtic at Tynecastle was the stand-out result, but they have scored at least four times in four separate games this term, twice hitting five.

Only once have they failed to win in 90 minutes - a 1-1 draw away to Raith Rovers in the League Cup group stage, albeit they did win on penalties. Points were also stripped from them for fielding an ineligible player against Cove Rangers.

All told, their 15-point haul surpasses Levein's previous best of 12 in his first spell in charge in 2003/04.

Have improved in attack and defence
Have improved in attack and defence

So what's changed?

Hearts were a young team last season, with five 16-year-olds making an appearance at some point and 10 teenagers making up the 18-strong squad for the 1-0 loss to Kilmarnock on the final day.

Callumn Morrison is the only teenager to have started a game thus far this term, though, with Levein bringing in 18 players since the end of last term.

Goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal has conceded just twice in the league; wing-back Demetri Mitchell has returned to add quality on the left; Olly Lee has helped address the lack of creativity, with three goals and two assists in his nine appearances; and, alongside him, Peter Haring has stiffened the midfield.

Further forward, the early performances of Uche Ikpeazu, Steven MacLean and Steven Naismith in attack have emboldened Levein enough to permit the sale of last season's top scorer, Kyle Lafferty, to Rangers.

Indeed, the impact of those changes has been such that even the saga over Lafferty's departure, losing captain Christophe Berra for six months, and Levein being hospitalised has not derailed them.

The Naismith effect

Steven Naismith's 2018/19 stats for Hearts

Naismith's form has been such that he has established himself as Scotland's first-choice striker after failing to initially make Alex McLeish's squad for the matches against Belgium and Albania.

Last season, he scored four times in 16 appearances after arriving on loan following a frustrating spell at Norwich City. This term, he has eight club goals in nine already.

His versatility has been key, having played through the middle, off a main striker and on either flank this term - and he has taken his share of the goalscoring burden.

Lafferty's 19 goals made up 37% of Hearts' total last season, but this campaign's 25 have been shared among eight players, with Naismith contributing 32% of them.

Without his goals in the past two matches, Hearts would have taken two points rather than six.

The Burley comparison

It doesn't feel like 13 years since Hearts began the league campaign with eight successive wins under George Burley.

Ultimately, they finished second, earned a place in the Champions League qualifiers and won the Scottish Cup, but only after Vladimir Romanov sacked Burley in late October with the club six points clear at the summit.

Hearts had finished sixth the season before, but a raft of summer signings, including the likes of Edgaras Jankauskas, Rudi Skacel and Takis Fyssas, allied with a strong Scottish backbone of Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley and Paul Hartley, made them an entirely different proposition.

Graphic
Teams with a 100% start and the number of wins they have recorded

They began with a 4-2 win over Kilmarnock before putting another four past both Hibernian and Livingston - and made it eight wins from eight when they beat reigning champions Rangers.

Draws with Falkirk, then Celtic, ended their 100% start to the season, but they were still unbeaten in 10 when Burley was dismissed due to "irreconcilable differences" just hours before the visit of Dunfermline Athletic.

They would still win another two games, before Edinburgh rivals Hibs finally brought their stellar start to a halt.

If Levein's side are to match that record, they would need to remain unbeaten for another seven league games.

That would take them up until the 3 November trip to Celtic and encompass a visit to Ibrox and home meetings with Hibs and Aberdeen. So maybe it's not quite time to get carried away yet.

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