• Gordon Sheach

Euro 2020 – Tartan Tracker – Jan-21


In exactly 5 months (Monday 14 June at 14:00), the Scotland Men’s National Team will walk out at Hampden Park to kick off their Euro 2020 campaign against the Czech Republic.


The 23-year absence from Major Finals will be over. While that much is clear, there are many questions that remain:


Will fans be allowed to attend? UEFA have decided a final decision will be made on 5 March 2021 – options include games being played at 100% capacity, 50-100%, 33% or behind closed doors.


One of the biggest questions on the minds of every Scotland supporter is:


Who will be in the Scotland squad?


In this article, the first of a monthly series this year – we will break down the squad, assess the form of the runners & riders and project a 23-man squad for Steve Clarke.


Goalkeepers


In goal, it would take a remarkable turn of events for David Marshall to not be wearing the gloves in June. He’s started 14 of Steve Clarke’s 16 games in charge and is clearly established as number one. His penalty save heroics vs Israel & Serbia went a long way to getting us to the Euros. While his Derby County side struggled early this season and find themselves in the Championship’s relegation zone, their form has improved since December, with Marshall keeping 6 clean sheets in 21 league games.


Behind Marshall, Craig Gordon is the most experienced available option. The 38-year-old brings 55 caps and a wealth of experience. He’s first choice for Hearts at the top of the Scottish Championship.


Celtic & Rangers have keepers with Scotland caps, although both – Scott Bain & Jon McLaughlin – have slipped down the pecking order. Allan McGregor continues to impress as first choice keeper for Rangers although he retired from international duty in 2018.


Therefore, the third-choice keeper position in the squad is wide open. Liam Kelly will hope a January move to Motherwell from QPR will give him the boost required to for Steve Clarke to take notice. Rangers loanee Robby McCrorie has not played for Livingston in the league since October.


Elsewhere, Craig MacGillivray has kept 8 clean sheets in 19 EFL League One games for Portsmouth who are fighting for promotion. He’s sat on the bench six times for Scotland under Steve Clarke and could be a wildcard.


January 2021 Projection: David Marshall - Craig Gordon – Craig MacGillivray

Centre Back


In the last six months, Steve Clarke has settled on a consistent back three of Kieran Tierney, Declan Gallagher & Scott McTominay.


There is a debate to be had whether Tierney or McTominay could offer more to the team elsewhere (at LB & CM respectively) but given the success we have had you would expect the status quo to continue for a while.


Behind those three, Liam Cooper will surely be included. He only has 4 caps but his experience at club level is incredible. He captains Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United side who have won many admirers this season in the English Premier League. Injury has limited him to 11 league appearances from 17. He is their first choice when fit.


Dropping into the English Championship we find another Scottish club captain. Grant Hanley has led his Norwich City side to top of the league after 23 games. While the last of his 30 caps came in 2018 against Costa Rica, Steve Clarke has tried to bring him back more than once with injury preventing the call-ups. He is only 29 years old and would bring a wealth of experience to our backline.


Elsewhere in the Championship, former Aberdeen stopper Scott McKenna made his return from an ankle injury for Nottingham Forest this past weekend. The 24-year-old will hope he can re-establish himself in the Forest side in advance of Scotland’s World Cup Qualifiers in March.


Other players that will be pushing for a call-up include Andy Considine (Aberdeen), Stuart Findlay (Kilmarnock) and Ryan Porteous (Hibernian) who have been in and around squads under Steve Clarke.


Mikey Devlin (Aberdeen) and John Souttar (Hearts) are currently stuck on the sidelines with injury.


One potential wildcard to keep an eye on is Reading’s Tom McIntyre. The 22-year-old centre back has 3 caps for Scotland u21s and has made 12 league appearances for the Royals this season. Perhaps one for the future.


Another wildcard (although this time something of a redemption story) could be Jack Hendry. The 25-year-old has found regular playing time hard to come by since his £1.5m move to Celtic in 2018. That was also the year he earned the last of his three caps, in an Alex McLeish friendly against Portugal. After a promising loan in Australia was cut short with a serious injury, Hendry joined KV Oostende in the Belgian Pro League for the 20/21 season. There he has rediscovered his form, playing regularly and scoring a couple of goals. If there’s one thing Scotland lack, it’s right footed centre backs. Hendry could potentially fill that role. One to watch.


January 2021 Projection: Kieran Tierney – Declan Gallagher – Scott McTominay – Liam Cooper – Grant Hanley – Scott McKenna

Full-Back


The picture at full back is relatively clear. Andy Robertson is Scotland captain and will be included if fit. Kieran Tierney, in a nod to his versatility, could be considered as Andy’s deputy in the LWB position – even if he is starting at LCB.


Greg Taylor has been in / out of the Celtic side this season, playing 52% of league minutes to date. Tierney’s versatility, and the tough choices required to adhere to the 23-man limit might see Taylor miss out.


At right back the shirt currently belongs to Stephen O’Donnell. The Motherwell man is out of contract at the end of January and faces really tough choices this month. Should he move and struggle to settle, his place in the Scotland squad could come under threat.

Liam Palmer will be eager to take advantage of any uncertainty surrounding O’Donnell. The Sheffield Wednesday right back has 7 caps although his side have been fighting at the wrong end of the EFL Championship.


Other options at full-back for Scotland are few and far between. Barry Douglas (Blackburn) was capped in a friendly under Alex McLeish and while West Ham’s Ryan Fredericks is eligible for Scotland, there hasn’t been any confirmation he’s seeking a call-up.


This could play into the hands of Aaron Hickey (Bologna). Hickey surprised many when he swapped Gorgie for Serie A, joining Bologna last summer. Fortune favoured Hickey early on when injuries elsewhere opened the door for him to start his first 5 Serie A games in a row. He has recently returned from a battle with Covid in December. In his time with Hearts he played both LB and RB – a two-footed versatility that could see him included in the Scotland squad for March’s World Cup Qualifiers.


January 2021 Projection: Andy Robertson - Stephen O’Donnell - Liam Palmer


Central Midfield


The number of midfielders required will depend on your interpretation of Clarke’s system. Some see it as a 5-3-2 with one attacker given a free role off a central striker. Others interpret it as a 5-2-2-1 with two attacking midfielders in support of the striker. For the purposes of this article, we’ll go with the former.


In 2020, Ryan Jack, Callum McGregor & John McGinn emerged as Clarke’s clear preference for the central midfield three. If all three are fit in June, they will be in the squad. While Ryan Jack picked up a knee injury that has kept him out since November, his return is imminent.


Behind those three the outstanding choice is Stuart Armstrong. The Southampton man has recently signed a new contract keeping him with the Saints until 2024. This season he has become a key part of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side that have won admirers across the Premier League. Armstrong has chipped in with two goals and two assists in 14 league games.


Another established Scotland player is Kenny McLean. Scotland’s penalty hero against Israel and Serbia has found his minutes at Norwich City limited this season. He had to make do with appearances from the bench until a potentially serious injury in November threatened to keep him out for months. Fortunately, the prognosis was quickly revised and McLean returned in December. He has started Norwich’s last five league games as they lead the way in the Championship.


Outside those five, the options are plentiful without any standing out at this stage. John Fleck has been limited by injury to 9 Premier League starts in a Sheffield United team that is rooted to the bottom of the league.


Uncapped options include Lewis Ferguson (Aberdeen), David Turnbull (Celtic), Ross McCrorie (Aberdeen) and Ryan Gauld (Farense) who have all shown periods of impressive form this season. You would think if players like these aren’t included in March’s World Cup Qualifying squad then their chances of inclusion for Euro 2020 will shrink considerably. They should all be watched closely between now and March.


One option that supporters were getting extremely excited about this time last year, and again this year, is Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour. In March 2020, back-to-back Man of the Match performances against Liverpool & Everton led to some touting Gilmour for inclusion in Scotland’s Playoff squad. The Coronavirus lockdown put an end to that speculation.


When the Premier League returned in June, Billy continued picking up minutes for Frank Lampard’s side. Then came a knee injury that required surgery, ending his season prematurely. He returned to action in December and has continued to impress with his touch and range of passing. Along the way he became a permanent member of Chelsea’s first team squad at training and made his Champions League debut. Reports from inside the club suggest Gilmour won’t be leaving on loan this month.


Should he continue to pick up minutes between now and March, the calls for Gilmour to make his debut (potentially against the Faroes at Hampden) will become deafening. Whether he’s included in the squad to play the Czech Republic at Euro 2020 (three days after his 20th birthday) is another question.


January 2021 Projection: Ryan Jack – Callum McGregor – John McGinn – Stuart Armstrong – Kenny McLean – Billy Gilmour


Forwards


Since Lyndon Dykes made his Scotland debut in September, he’s been a revelation for Steve Clarke’s side. The Gold Coast born hitman has been a handful for every opponent, winning everything in the air, linking up with attacking midfielders and scoring a couple of goals (against Czech Republic & Slovakia). The return of Charlie Austin to QPR on loan could put his position under threat, but if he’s getting club minutes and he’s fit – he’s going to start Euro 2020 for Scotland.


In Clarke’s system, Dykes has been paired with several different strike partners. The partner’s role is to play off Dykes, running on to his flick-ons and making runs for Dykes to link up with.


In October’s Nations League games, Dykes’ partner was Newcastle United’s Ryan Fraser. The two struck up a promising partnership with the former Bournemouth winger showcasing his speed & versatility – giving defenders problems by taking up positions on both wings. He also showcased his finishing, calmly opening the scoring against the Czech Republic having been sent clear by Dykes.


However, having not played since March when the Covid lockdown started, Fraser is still building his fitness. He’s been limited to 317 minutes in the league with similar coming in the EFL Cup. His quality and track record for Scotland will mean he is probably included in June, but it would be great to see him put a run of games together for the Toon.


For November’s crucial triple header, Ryan Fraser was injured. Replacing him as Dykes’ partner was Celtic’s Ryan Christie. He slotted in perfectly, scoring the goal in Belgrade and then crying his eyes out on national television post-match to cement his place in Scottish Football legend.


Christie has been something of a swiss army knife for Steve Clarke. When Scotland played 4-3-3 he often played on the right wing, cutting on to his favoured left foot. He scored an excellent goal in Cyprus and provided two assists against San Marino.


With the switch to the 3-5-2 he has found himself up front where he has also flourished, scoring penalties against Israel & the Czechs in Nations League before his star turn in Belgrade. While his performances for Celtic this season haven’t met last term’s frankly ridiculous return of 20 goals and 16 assists, the same could be said for many Parkhead players. If he’s fit, he’s in the squad.


The question of who could replace Dykes is wide open. Leigh Griffiths (Celtic) and Oli McBurnie (Sheffield United) have both struggled for consistent form this season, as has Oli Burke (Sheffield United).


Lawrence Shankland (Dundee United) has struggled to carry his Championship form into the Premiership, scoring 4 times in 18 games. Callum Paterson (Sheffield Wednesday) has been a feature of recent squads and the big forward has four goals for his new club since joining in the summer.


Other options include Steven Naismith (Hearts) who would bring 50+ caps worth of international experience, Johnny Russell (Sporting Kansas City) & Lewis Morgan (Inter Miaimi) have impressed Stateside and Fraser Hornby (Reims) is Scotland's record scorer at u21 level but has yet to flourish with his new club in France.


Finally, a word on Celtic’s James Forrest, the 35-cap winger hasn’t played for club or country since injuring his ankle in September. His last appearance for Scotland was in the opening Nations League draw with Israel at Hampden where he took up the right wing back position. Given Stephen O’Donnell’s emergence in that position it would seem that door is closed, and the lack of natural wingers in Clarke’s preferred system would mean a move centrally or having to bide his time until the system is tweaked.


We’ve written previously about the need for a Plan B for Scotland, especially if we fall behind in a game. A return to Clarke’s original system of a 4-3-3 would certainly benefit Forrest more than most. Given his international experience, if he can return to the Celtic side between now and March, he’ll be pushing for a return to the Scotland side in the World Cup Qualifiers.


January 2021 Projection: Lyndon Dykes – Ryan Fraser – Ryan Christie – Leigh Griffiths – Oli McBurnie


What do you think of our projections? Who is pushing for inclusion in your squad?


We’ll update them monthly as the Euros draws ever closer. Stick with The Tartan Scarf for all your pre-Euro Scotland content.