PREVIEW: Scotland v Russia – Euro 2020 Qualifying
Billie Joel Armstrong of Green Day once sang “wake me up when September ends”. If the Scotland National Team see this coming weekend return no points in Euro 2020 qualifying, Steve Clarke could be forgiven for going home to get the guitar.
While Steve Clarke’s stewardship of the National Team remains in its infancy, he has reached a critical moment in this qualification campaign as Group I reaches the halfway stage.
After beating Cyprus and losing in Brussels, Scotland face Russia on Friday before welcoming the Red Devils of Belgium to Scotland’s National Stadium, Hampden Park.
Where were we?
Four games into this qualification process, Scotland sit 4th, level on points with Kazakhstan but below them on head to head after the nightmare result in Astana on matchday 1.
Realistically, this weekend will go a long way to determining Scotland’s future in this group. Come Tuesday morning, Tartan Army attention could have turned entirely to the safety net of March’s Nations League Playoff.
Record v Russia
Played 2, Won 0, Drawn 2, Loss 0
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Scotland have played Russia twice, in qualifying for Euro '96.
Scotland drew home and away. Scott Booth scoring Scotland's goal in a 1-1 draw at Hampden in November 1994 while Craig Brown's men saw out a goalless draw in the return fixture in Moscow the following year.
Scotland did beat CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), the transitional side that competed at Euro '92 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Paul McStay,, Brian McLair and Gary McCallister scored in a 3-0 win.
Prior to that, Scotland's record against the USSR was patchier, drawing 2-2 at the 1982 World Cup and losing friendlies in '67, '71 & '91.
For an in-depth look at the Russian squad, look no further than James Scott's scouting report on The Tartan Scarf here including danger-men and predicted lineup.
The Scotland Squad
Full analysis of the group Steve Clarke has called up can be found here.
Scotland's record in home competitive games is remarkably good. The Scots are currently on an 8-game unbeaten run at home since a 3-2 loss to the then World Champions Germany.
They'll need their form players to deliver on Friday night under the lights at Hampden. Hopefully the Tartan Army come out in big numbers to get behind Steve Clarke's side to roar them to a positive result.
Predicted score - Scotland 1-0 Russia (Christie)
Predicted Scotland Lineup
Looking at the strength Russia have at the back, Scotland will likely need a man up top who can win flick-ons, hold the ball up and let Scotland's pacy attacking midfielders go beyond him. Matt Phillips could well take on that role as he as done for Scotland in the past. Phillips joins the squad with 2 goals and an assist in 6 EFL Championship games for West Brom. He also scored his first goal for Scotland in Hungary last year playing that role, starting and finishing the move.
Elsewhere in the squad, Steve Clarke's largest headache is likely to come in midfield where he will try and fit John McGinn and Scott McTominay who have excelled this season in the English Premier League alongside Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor.
We're predicting a start for Ryan Christie who brings red-hot form from Celtic's European qualifiers to the squad. Ryan already has 8 goals and 5 assists in 12 games this season including a spectacular opening day hat trick against St Johnstone.
At the back, where the options are less bountiful, expect to see Leeds United captain Liam Cooper make his long awaited debut. He's become a key member of Marcelo Bielsa's Premier League chasing side, a good performance on Friday could secure his place for the foreseeable future in Steve Clarke's starting 11. Elsewhere in Group I
While Scotland play Russia on Friday:
San Marino v Belgium
Cyprus v Kazakhstan
Then on Monday night:
Scotland v Belgium
Russia v Kazakhstan
San Marino v Cyprus
After this weekend there will be only 12 points for Scotland to play for. Scotland's loss in Astana has left little room for error in this group.