The League Cup semi-finals were a walkover. Hibs and Hearts turned up to face Celtic and Rangers, duly lost, and left us with a mouth-watering final to look forward to. But, while the games didn’t entice, the way in which Hibs and Hearts lost was significant. The manner of the defeats acted as sharp reminders of why they are struggling.

Hibs, in what proved to be Paul Heckingbottom’s last match in charge, seemed confused defensively. They set up in a 4-2-3-1 system with Christian Doidge leading the line, but they were caught between pressing and sitting off, ultimately doing neither with effectiveness.

One problem was they couldn’t apply serious pressure to Celtic’s centre-backs with Doidge up top. The Welshman lacks mobility; so he wasn’t able to close down Christopher Jullien or Kristoffer Ajer with intensity. That gave Celtic time to play out from the back, and the two defenders could often be seen using the space and time they had to drive forward with the ball at feet.

If you can’t press the opposition build-up, you have to be compact in your shape, and Hibs weren’t. Just after the half-hour mark their midfield stepped up to close down Ajer, but the defence didn’t go at the same time. This left a huge gap between the lines, which James Forrest drifted into to receive the ball, turn, and dribble forward easily.

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For Celtic’s second goal, there was a huge gap between Hibs right-back Tom James and centre-back Adam Jackson. Odsonne Edouard accepted the invitation, running into the gap to receive from Jullien, who could ping the ball over the top under no pressure whatsoever. Edouard then slipped in Callum McGregor to hit the net from close range.

Without an organised press or defensive shape, Hibs were too easy to open up. Playing Florian Kamberi from the start may have helped – he averages more interceptions and ball recoveries per 90 minutes than Doidge – and the Swiss did make an impact when he came off the bench in the second half.

Heckingbottom, to his credit, saw the issues and changed his team’s shape. Kamberi partnered Doidge up front and Hibs went to a 4-3-1-2 with a diamond midfield. The increased numbers centrally made it harder for Celtic to play through them, and briefly there appeared a remote chance of a comeback. Unfortunately for Heckingbottom, it was too little, too late.

Hearts had changed their manager before their semi-final with Rangers, following a disappointing 1-0 midweek loss to St Johnstone. Austin MacPhee stepped up to take the reins temporarily, and surprised many with his selection: Uche Ikpeazu dropping to the bench, with Craig Wighton making his first appearance of the campaign.

In contrast to Hibs, Hearts were solid defensively. MacPhee set his side up in a shape Levein used at times for big games such as Celtic away this season or last term’s Scottish Cup final – a narrow 4-3-3 where the wide men stay close to the striker. This essentially blocked off the centre for Rangers, meaning Connor Goldson and Filip Helander couldn’t find passes through to Steven Davis and Ryan Jack.

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Hearts focused on retaining their shape at all costs, only pressing when a loose pass was played. This focus ensured there were few gaps for Rangers, and they had to go wide to James Tavernier and Borna Barisic in order to progress the ball.

While Rangers went on to win comfortably, the 3-0 scoreline and dominant second-half showing didn’t tell the whole story. Hearts were still in the game at half-time, and were only undone by a lack of concentration on defending the second phase after crosses into their box. Twice Rangers caught Hearts defenders napping, failing to look around them and match runs after clearing their lines.

Hearts managed to frustrate Rangers, which Hibs couldn’t do to Celtic. But Hibs got at Celtic in the final third, which Hearts singularly failed to do. Without Ikpeazu, they lacked someone who could hold the ball up or drift wide and win out in one v one situations on the counter-attack. The front three of Wighton, Steven MacLean and Ryotaro Meshino lacked the pace, power and aggression on the ball that Ikpeazu brings.

If it were possible to combine the two performances, the result would have been a cohesive semi-final showing. But each only functioned in one aspect of the games and that just shows how far they are off Celtic and Rangers.