It’s not like I’ve got to replace Messi, says Gordon Strachan

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Gordon Strachan is not expecting anyone to simply step into the shoes of Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong against Slovakia on Thursday night.

The Scotland manager has been robbed through injury of two players central to the recent improvement in the international side’s World Cup fortunes.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, centre, shares a joke with midfielders Darren Fletcher, left, and Robert Snodgrass during a training session at Hampden Park. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, centre, shares a joke with midfielders Darren Fletcher, left, and Robert Snodgrass during a training session at Hampden Park. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

But Strachan is banking on others to bring their own qualities on what he said would likely be a long – and nervous – night.

He added that it’s not as if 
he is being asked to find a replacement for Lionel Messi.

That was no slight on Brown and Armstrong, whose combined contribution has helped Scotland inch back into contention for a play-off place.

In order to maintain those hopes, three points are a must against Slovakia at Hampden, before attention turns to Sunday’s final group game in Slovenia.

Scotland must try to win both fixtures without injured Celtic pair Brown, also the national captain, and Armstrong.

Their Parkhead team-mate Callum McGregor has been added to the squad while no one has been called in to replace Newcastle United’s Matt Ritchie, a more recent withdrawal. Strachan is aware the stakes are high enough without heaping extra pressure on those who will play in the injured trio’s absence.

Strachan ruled out asking McGregor to do what Armstrong does as a fast-breaking midfielder, or telling Hibs’ John McGinn to replicate Brown’s strut.

“It’s not fair to say to players: ‘Listen, I want you to play like him’ or ‘I want you to play like someone else’,” said Strachan.

“You have to have a system where the players feel confident enough in themselves, knowing that it’s all about the way they play rather than trying to fill in for someone who couldn’t be there. You don’t want them trying to imitate someone.” Strachan added: “I think it will be a long night, an interesting night. It might even be a nervous night. But hopefully, at the end of the night, we’re all happy.”

Around 45,000 tickets had been sold for the vital Group F fixture as of last night. The Tartan Army’s confidence might have been shaken by the enforced withdrawal of two lynchpins of the side but Strachan is confident the news hasn’t impacted on the remaining available players.

Instead, he imagines those now in line to start will view it as an opportunity to show why they should be first-choice in the first place.

Strachan described several players as “bouncing” into Mar Hall, the team’s headquarters, on Sunday evening and none seemed cowed by the thought of being without influential team-mates. “I don’t think that there is an inferiority complex with any of them, because I don’t think we have players that far ahead,” said Strachan. “It is different if it is Messi. ‘Do you want to step in for Messi?’ No, I don’t want to step in for Messi. Aguero? No, I don’t want to do that either. I’d rather just sit on the bench and watch this’. So we’re not there, no.”

Strachan is certain every single player in his squad believes they can make a difference if selected.

“If we spoke to the players after the games we’ve played recently and said to Ritchie, (Barry) Bannan and another couple of lads: ‘Do you think you would have made the team better’. They would have said: ‘Aye’.

“Or Ryan Fraser, do you think you would have made the team better? ‘Yep – I’m not saying I am better than anyone but I can do that’.”