Euro 2020 – Tartan Tracker –Feb '21
One month ago, we had our first attempt at projecting Steve Clarke’s 23-man squad for Euro 2020. We did our best to assess all of the options available to Clarke, focusing on some of the more fringe options.
For this update, we’re going to check in with Scotland’s players based in the English Premier League ahead of the return to competitive action next month when the qualifying process for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar kicks off.
January 2021 Projection: David Marshall - Craig Gordon – Craig MacGillivray
In January we projected a goalkeeping trio for Euro 2020 of Marshall, Gordon & Portsmouth’s MacGillivray. Since then, a few things have changed. David Marshall had to be substituted before half time in Derby’s most recent game with a reported back injury. Steve Clarke will have an anxious wait for updates on his number one’s fitness.
Marshall’s backup, Craig Gordon has continued as first choice for Hearts who, despite being in the SPFL Championship, would be the senior pick to replace Marshall if required.
Elsewhere, Scott Bain has reclaimed the starting spot at Celtic, starting their last nine league games in a row. If he retains his place under caretaker manager John Kennedy until the end of the season, it’s hard to see him missing out on the Euros squad.
February 2021 Projection (*NEW): David Marshall – Craig Gordon – Scott Bain*
January 2021 Projection: Kieran Tierney – Declan Gallagher – Scott McTominay – Liam Cooper – Grant Hanley – Scott McKenna
In the centre back position, we’re going to take a close look at two players who aren’t necessarily centre backs and might be making the case to be included elsewhere for Scotland.
Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney has made a very timely return from a knee injury in recent weeks, scoring a crucial goal in the Europa League that helped propel the Gunners past Benfica.
Looking at the entire season, Mike Arteta has benefited from Tierney’s tactical flexibility, playing the Scotsman as a left-sided centre back in a three and at left wing back.
The stats below demonstrate Tierney’s remarkable attacking prowess. His touches in the final third, xA (expected assists) and passes into the box put him among the highest performing full backs in Europe’s top five leagues. You will be able to directly compare Tierney’s output in the Premier League to Scotland captain Andy Robertson later in this article. Given Tierney’s attacking numbers, you would love to see Tierney getting forward more for Scotland.
The second centre back under the microscope is another player who doesn’t always play there with his club – Manchester United’s Scott McTominay. Since January, McTominay has established himself as a key player in United’s midfield – adding goals to his game by scoring in three consecutive games at the start of February.
Looking at the stats you perhaps see the best of what McTominay has brought to Scotland playing in defence. His performances for Manchester United show 87% pass completion which compares very favourably to his peers in Europe. His other outstanding attributes are his passes into the final third and interceptions.
The debate of where McTominay should play will continue to rage on. He brings a lot to Scotland when playing at RCB, particularly his calmness and technique on the ball allowing Scotland to recycle possession and build from the back, although if Scott continues to excel in midfield for Manchester United the calls for him to replicate that for Scotland will grow ever louder.
Elsewhere, we see no reason to alter January’s projection. Hanley continues to play every game for the club leading the English Championship. Scott McKenna has had an injury ravaged first season at Nottingham Forest although should be back playing within the next couple of weeks.
February 2021 Projection (*NEW): Kieran Tierney – Declan Gallagher – Scott McTominay – Liam Cooper – Grant Hanley – Scott McKenna
January 2021 Projection: Andy Robertson - Stephen O’Donnell - Liam Palmer
Liverpool have suffered a poor season compared to their stratospherically high standards they have set over the past two seasons. Andy Robertson has, like so many of his team-mates, seen a slight downturn in his output this season. To date he has returned 5 league assists which pales in comparison to the previous two seasons when he returned 10+ in each.
However, dig a little deeper into the numbers and you’ll see Andy’s performances are still incredibly good. His stats - touches in the final third, expected assists (xA), passes into the box and passes into the final third – rank among the best in Europe.
Interestingly, all of these performance indicators outstrip Kieran Tierney’s performances – perhaps justifying Robertson taking the left wing back position for Scotland with Tierney supporting from the left sided centre back position.
Stephen O’Donnell has taken the captain’s armband for Motherwell while Declan Gallagher has been injured. Liam Palmer continues to play regularly in a relatively unspectacular Sheffield Wednesday side.
James Tavernier’s injury at Rangers (and their impending title win) could open the door to Nathan Patterson for a late run at March’s squad. Elsewhere, Aaron Hickey has recently spoken publicly to remind Steve Clarke he can play at right back too.
February 2021 Projection (*NEW): Andy Robertson - Stephen O’Donnell - Liam Palmer
January 2021 Projection: Ryan Jack – Callum McGregor – John McGinn – Stuart Armstrong – Kenny McLean – Billy Gilmour
Scotland have four central midfielders playing in the English Premier League, three of which we’ll look at here.
Stuart Armstrong has been having a productive season for Southampton, returning three goals and three assists. He’s also signed a new contract, extending his stay on the south coast. His stand-out statistic this season is his successful dribbles, showcasing his ability to carry the ball from midfield into attacking positions.
John McGinn’s stats paint a picture of the player we know and love – using his combative style and unique technique of shielding the ball to win 2.32 fouls per game, among the highest in Europe.
He also displays outstanding dribbling and progressive passing into the final third. If Scotland are to play with one striker, it’s essential the midfielders can push high to support him. McGinn seems perfectly placed to excel in that system.
You can tell John Fleck is trying to fulfil this role at Sheffield United, with his passes into the final third stat comparing well to his European peers. However, Sheffield United’s form this season may well count against him when it comes to selecting Scotland’s squad for the Euros. Unlike McGinn & Armstrong, Fleck maybe doesn’t have as much credit in the bank from outstanding performances for Scotland and may well find his position under threat.
The other EPL based central midfielder that was included in our January projection, Billy Gilmour, has sadly dropped out. Since our last update Frank Lampard was replaced by Tomas Tuchel and his opportunities in the first team have dried up. Still only 19 and with a unique skill set among Scotland’s midfielders, we are sure his time will come. Unfortunately, it’s not now.
In Scotland, David Turnbull’s form since coming into the Celtic midfield late last year can’t be ignored. He’s been the bright spark in a disappointing season for the Parkhead side. At this stage we fully expect him to be involved in March’s World Cup Qualifying squad and involvement there could propel him to the Euros.
February 2021 Projection (*NEW): Ryan Jack – Callum McGregor – John McGinn – Stuart Armstrong – Kenny McLean – David Turnbull*
January 2021 Projection: Lyndon Dykes – Ryan Fraser – Ryan Christie – Leigh Griffiths – Oli McBurnie
Up front for Scotland, Lyndon Dykes’ position as our central striker is undisputed. Despite middling form in his first season at Queens Park Rangers returning five league goals and competition from recently signed Charlie Austin, it’s safe to say Dykes will lead the line in March and the summer.
Three of Scotland’s forward line are based in the English Premier League, two in the steel city of Sheffield.
First up is Oli McBurnie, a player who has had his fair share of bad luck for Scotland but ultimately has yet to open his account in 15 caps. In the league you can’t argue with McBurnie’s work rate, showing impressive numbers in pressing, turnovers and aerial duels.
Unfortunately, strikers are often judged purely on goals scored and, by that measure, McBurnie has only found the net once in all competitions. Like Fleck, he may well be sweating on his place in the squad.
McBurnie’s team-mate, Oli Burke also shows impressive stats when it comes to the pressing side of the game – his presses in the final third are off the charts. Like McBurnie, his end product has been somewhat lacking, recording two goals and one assist across twenty appearances.
Newcastle United’s Ryan Fraser is another player who has experienced a difficult season, having struggled to build up his fitness after joining the Magpies in September. Fitness and injury has limited him to starting roughly a quarter of games.
However, look into his stats and you see the strengths he brought to Scotland when partnered with Dykes. His expected assists (xA), passes into the box and passes leading to a shot rank very highly compared to his peers in Europe. Should he be fit in March, he’ll be a potent weapon in Steve Clarke’s arsenal.
Up in Scotland, Lawrence Shankland’s run of goalscoring form for Dundee United sees him replace Oli McBurnie in our projected Euros squad.
February 2021 Projection (*NEW): Lyndon Dykes – Ryan Fraser – Ryan Christie – Lawrence Shankland – Oli Burke
What do you think of our projections? Who is pushing for inclusion in your squad?