Steve Clarke today (5 November) unveiled the group of players who will aim to end Scotland’s Group I campaign on a high in Cyprus before an opportunity to lay the ghosts of Astana to rest against Kazakhstan at Hampden.
In years past, with qualification impossible and finishing third the only carrot on offer, these matches would take on the status of dead rubbers, with thoughts turning towards the Nations League matches in September 2020 and the prospect of a new World Cup qualifying group beyond.
Thank goodness then for the Nations League and the Playoff place Scotland secured in Alex McLeish’s second reign!
With that in mind, Steve Clarke approached these matches as a priceless opportunity to deliver consistency of selection and performance, effective dress rehearsals ahead of one (and hopefully another) of the most pivotal matches this century courtesy of the Nations League Playoffs in March.
Last time out Scotland folded in Moscow, going down 4-0 before entertaining a sodden Hampden, beating San Marino 6-0.
Clarke has again made been reluctant to make wholesale changes to his squad. Here’s a breakdown of the squad looking to build momentum towards March:
Again, there are no changes in the goalkeeping unit. David Marshall played in Moscow before Jon McLaughlin was given the job of taking occasional goal kicks against San Marino. Expect David Marshall to continue in these games and into the Playoffs.
Elsewhere, highly rated 23-year-old former Livingston stopper Liam Kelly has assumed the #1 spot at Mark Warburton’s QPR. He’s yet to keep a clean sheet in 8 appearances so far. Should he find the form he showed at the Tony Macaroni Arena last season expect to see him join the squad soon. A potential Scotland number one for the future. Allan McGregor remains retired from international duty.
Declan Gallagher was a late call-up last time and he retains his place. Injury denies Steve Clarke’s most consistent selection at centre back, Charlie Mulgrew, from being included.
Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna returns having regained fitness along with Liam Cooper. It will be interesting to see if they’re tested as a pairing in either/both upcoming matches.
Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney is a frustrating absence. Since the last international break, he has broken into Arsenal’s first team, first in the Europa League then the Premier League & looks to be Arsenal’s first choice left back. Clarke alluded to Arsenal being keen to address an injury issue in the international break, preventing his inclusion.
Scotland’s contingent of English Premier League midfielders have gone from strength to strength since the last international break. Aston Villa’s John McGinn has been an ever-present for the Birmingham club while John Fleck and Stuart Armstrong have seen more game time.
Scott McTominay continues to enhance his reputation as a pivotal member of Manchester United’s midfield.
West Ham’s Robert Snodgrass announced his international retirement after the last get together and does not return. His experience and presence in the dressing room will surely be missed.
In the SPFL, Callum McGregor’s form remains strong for Celtic although he has played more minutes than any other player in the squad. His minutes in this double header may need to be managed.
Up front, Johnny Russell departs the squad as the MLS season is over while Heart’s Steven Naismith returns, only one cap shy of the 50-cap threshold for entry into the Scottish FA Roll of Honour. Steven brings more experience than anyone to the squad, only four members of the squad have 30+ caps.
Lawrence Shankland has continued to score goals since scoring on his home Scotland debut against San Marino. He now has 17 goals for the season, it will be interesting to see if Steve Clarke gives him more chances to impress in these upcoming games.
The Tartan Scarf Age v League Minutes Matrix
Here, we look at the age profile of the squad v the % of league minutes each has played so far this season:
- Not a great deal of experience in the squad with only three players over the age of 30 (two of the goalkeepers)
- Only four players have played less than 50% of available league minutes. Steven Naismith has been injured since the opening day of the season while Oli Burke & Greg Taylor are settling at new sides. Stuart Armstrong has seen his involvement at Southampton increase in recent weeks.
- It is great to see so many of our established first team players – McTominay, Robertson, McGinn etc. playing so regularly at such a high level.
What do you think of the squad? Who should Steve Clarke have included? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @TheTartanScarf.