The five Scotland conundrums Steve Clarke faces in picking his team
It’s a well-worn cliche that managers get selection headaches, but Steve Clarke could be forgiven if a migraine comes on, such is the brain-work required to piece together a Scotland team that can beat Serbia on Thursday and qualify for Euro 2020.
With two calls-off in Ryan Fraser and Grant Hanley reducing the squad to 25, Scots boss Clarke has plenty of options. Goalkeeper David Marshall, captain Andy Robertson, in-form Man United midfielder-turned-defender Scott McTominay, Aston Villa tyro John McGinn and preferred striker Lyndon Dykes can consider themselves “first names on the team-sheet”, but what about the rest? Put five Scotland fans in a room and the chances are they’d pick different teams. We take a look at five burning selection posers:
Clarke knows and trusts Stephen O’Donnell after their time together at Kilmarnock and the current Motherwell right-back started all three matches in October. That trio of clean sheets will enhance O’Donnell’s chances of playing in Belgrade, even though Sheffield Wednesday counterpart Liam Palmer is back in the squad after injury sidelined him last month. Clarke could throw two wild-card picks into the mix, however. Picking Kieran Tierney on his unnatural flank would at least get an English Premier League player into the team, or the versatile Callum Paterson – a steady right-back in his Hearts days – could come in and offer physicality and energy. O’Donnell probably edges it though.
Does Declan Gallagher start?
Declan Gallagher performed so well in Scotland’s last matches at the heart of a back three that it appears mean to be discussing whether he should play or not. The Motherwell captain’s position is under threat, though, because Nottingham Forest’s Scott McKenna – normally a regular – and Leeds United’s Liam Cooper are back in the squad. Clarke must decide whether continuity is preferable to men playing at a higher level.
Left side of defence
Skipper Robertson is a cert at left-back, but who plays inside him? Andy Considine let nobody down when thrown in at the deep end last month, but with Cooper and Tierney back, his position is far from certain. Getting Tierney and Robertson into the same team has been a bone of contention for some time and while Tierney can play as a left-sided centre-back, clearly his best role is attacking left full-back. The question is whether Scotland should go with the tried-and-trusted of October, or go with a new configuration with more stellar players in November.
McGinn starts. End of discussion. Moving McTominay into midfield reacquaints him with his natural habitat, although he was excellent in defence and ought to be kept there. That opens the door for Ryan Jack to play in the deeper midfield role. Callum McGregor has been a mainstay for a while now, but free of the shackles of Covid-19 and helping Southampton top the English charts, Stuart Armstrong can lay claim to a spot too. Kenny McLean is likely booked for a place on the bench.
And behind Dykes?
Fraser was pencilled in to dovetail with No.9 Dykes before his hamstring injury. Ryan Christie, with long-shot potential and set-play prowess, is a good option to play behind the striker. Armstrong can do that role too. Oli McBurnie would make it a straight strike partnership. Leigh Griffiths is the potential supersub.