SATURDAY'S fixture at Fir Park will provide an early indicator as to which Premiership club is likely to finish the season as the best of the rest, with Motherwell hosting Aberdeen in one of the more eye-catching matches taking place in the top flight this weekend.

It has been a season of contrasting emotions for the two sides. Motherwell have been the Premiership's surprise package at this early stage of the season and regardless of the result, will hold onto third spot in the standings. Aberdeen, meanwhile, have not approached anything nearing their best yet but, to Derek McInnes' credit, still find themselves in fourth place.

There remains a lingering sense that there is more to come from this Aberdeen team who have won just three of their opening eight fixtures this term. Injuries, to be fair, have played their part but tomorrow's game in Lanarkshire will provide an early-season barometer of which side looks the most likely to finish the season in third.

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While McInnes will be breathing a sigh of relief that Scott McKenna is back in his starting line-up, issues persist further up the park. Lewis Ferguson and Curtis Main are both suspended for Saturday's match, having both picked up red cards in the 1-1 draw with Hibernian a fortnight ago, although the loss of Ferguson will surely be more keenly felt than Main's absence.

The Aberdeen boss is also unable to call upon the services of summer signing Funso Ojo, who has been ruled out with injury, while Stephen Gleeson and Craig Bryson are both recuperating from injuries of their own and may not be 100% match fit.

The midfield battle at Fir Park will be key to determining which side will come out on top and in this sense, Stephen Robninson will surely be feeling optimistic about his side's chances. He will be without holding midfielder Liam Donnelly, who is serving his own suspension, but with the other players the Northern Irishman has at his disposal Robinson will expect his side to dominate the middle of the park.

Liam Polworth has been nothing short of a revelation since arriving from Inverness in the summer and his technical ability on the ball - coupled with his set-piece prowess - has meant that Motherwell have barely felt the absence of David Turnbull. Allan Campbell, meanwhile, continues to progress at an impressive rate and has been another top performer in the Steelmen's midfield.

Neither of this pair are especially strong defensively, so McInnes has reason to be hopeful of a lack of steel in the middle of the home side's midfield. With Jake Carroll and Mark O'Hara also doubts to start the match, Robinson may be forced into playing Declan Gallagher in a holding role, or else moving Liam Grimshaw - who has featured primarily as a right-back this season - into the base of midfield.


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If Aberdeen are to secure a result, then McInnes will need his players to take full advantage of any Motherwell player in an unfamiliar role. The problem, however, is that the Aberdeen manager will most likely need to do the same thanks to his own team's injury problems. Either Bryson or Gleeson will get the nod, despite not being entirely fit, or an inexperienced player such as Dean Campbell will be tasked with disrupting one of the Premiership's best midfields. Either way, it seems a big ask.

Aberdeen's crisis in midfield has had far-reaching effects, most notably when we look a little further forward. The lack of creativity has proved costly in the final third: only Hamilton (52) have hit fewer shots than Aberdeen (71) in the league this season. Motherwell, by the way, have hit 124 - only Rangers and Celtic have had more efforts on goal.

Additionally, a look at the two teams' expected goals (xG) highlights the contrasting fortunes of each side's attack. Motherwell have a cumulative xG of 13.1 - again, only Rangers and Celtic have a higher xG - while Aberdeen have the third-lowest total in the entire division.

The reason for this appears to be that McInnes' side rely on converting crosses from wide areas as their main source of goals, which are generally low-probability opportunities. With a target like Sam Cosgrove to aim for this probably makes sense but it means that if they cannot find a way through by doing so, Aberdeen quickly run out of ideas.

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Saturday's game will be a match of contrasting styles. Motherwell prefer playing their way  into the opposition box; Aberdeen choose to bombard it with cross after cross. Robinson likes his players to carry the ball forward; McInnes prefers his players not to dribble.

Both teams will be playing with somewhat makeshift midfields on Saturday and the victor will likely be the side whose reinforcements can get the better of their opposite numbers. A win for Motherwell would provide a real statement of intent in regards to their European ambitions, while Aberdeen need a result to underline their own credentials as the best of the rest. Either way, we will learn a lot about both teams when the final whistle is blown at Fir Park.