It’s so typical of the Scottish national team that two of our most promising young talents on the international stage, Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, both play the same position - left-back.
It’s a similar problem to the one facing the national side at present, with a plethora of B standard midfielders and three good goalkeepers resulting in a talent inequality within the starting XI. However, unlike the overabundance between the sticks, there could be a way of fitting both of Robertson and Tierney in a line-up, providing either of the pair can develop the skills necessary to become an international class left winger.
It’s often been assumed that Robertson would be the natural choice to play further forward if both players were shoehorned into the same starting XI. After all, his rise to prominence came as a result of those foraging runs up the left wing from deep, while there remained a question mark regarding his reliability on the defensive side. On the other hand, Tierney is viewed as the more rounded player: stronger in defence but maybe not as naturally inclined to strike fear into the hearts of opposing sides.
Although, he was capable of operating at both roles in the Celtic youth team, while he’s improved as an attacker in the senior ranks since the arrival of Brendan Rodgers. The ex-Liverpool boss has encouraged Tierney to push higher up the park, often to the point where he resembles a left winger more than a left-back - look at Kenny Miller’s man-marking job on the youngster in the first Celtic-Rangers derby as evidence. This allows Scott Sinclair to move inside, creating a lopsided 3-5-2, with Scott Brown on guard to tuck in should Celtic’s opponents threaten to exploit the space left in behind.
His attacking qualities were clearly on display in his Ladbrokes Premiership return against St Johnstone on Wednesday night. Throughout the first 45 minutes he roasted Saints midfielder David Wotherspoon, continually getting beyond his opponent, both with the ball at his feet or by making a perfectly timed run in behind. His ability to drop the shoulder, wriggle through tight spaces and unleash a sudden burst of acceleration certainly reminds the viewer of an attacker rather than a defender.
Once he gets into dangerous areas he’s highly efficient. He’s great at picking out team-mates with a cross or cut-back. Only Barrie McKay of Rangers and Ross County’s Alex Schalk have assisted on more shot attempts per 90 minutes (according to The SPFL radar) in the Scottish top flight this season.
He does have a slight advantage by often going against attacking players rather than defenders. Opposing full-backs tend to tuck in against Celtic, especially at Parkhead as visiting teams like to stay as narrow as possible, leaving Tierney in space against a hapless winger who’s typical idea of a productive game is getting into the other side’s box rather than stopping a left-back from attacking his own.
When he comes up against seasoned defenders, especially those of a better quality than those in the Ladbrokes Premiership, which will be most of them at international level, the task of getting in behind will become much tougher. But he is still only 19, and there’s been tremendous progress in his attacking arsenal in just 18 months, so why can’t we expect him to grow into a fearsome international attacker once he hits 22 or 23?
Regardless of whether it’s Robertson or Tierney who find themselves pushed forward, Scotland should still have an intimidating threat down the left side of the field for a decade to come.