Craig Levein plans high-tempo approach but sticks to 4-1-4-1
WELCOME to another intense period in Craig Levein’s life.
The Scotland manager has some well-rehearsed complaints about an international manager’s existence and they include the lack of day-to-day involvement with players and the sporadic bursts of games.
He might have added that neither is he enamoured with what seems to be the contractual obligation to become the nation’s favourite punchbag. He is currently in one of those phases when he is very much in the thick of things.
After Saturday’s home draw with Serbia, some now blame him for having left Scotland in the mire.
While glad of the return to football action, he is less grateful for the swift turnaround of matches which requires Scotland to play a second competitive fixture inside four days after an almost year-long break from the intensity of a qualifying campaign.
Even behind a pair of dark glasses, there can be no hiding place for Levein against FYR Macedonia tonight.
With the jeers which greeted the end of their last outing having barely had time to drift off into the ether, Scotland must re-engage with the task of qualifying for a World Cup.
The manager hardly knew which way to look yesterday; back to Saturday’s disappointing 0-0 draw with Serbia or ahead to tonight’s clash, against a team he clearly believes are more dangerous than many imagine.
“You just need to look at their results to know that they are decent,” he said yesterday, before pointing to their 1-0 defeat by Croatia on Friday night.
“They probably should have won,” he continued. “They are a decent attacking team, so if we over-commit we will play right into their hands.”
Those who consider Levein an overly-cautious manager will have groaned upon hearing such comments ahead of a match against opponents ranked at 97 in the world.
However, the manager railed against the impression of him as a negative coach, reminding those present that, before Saturday, Scotland had scored in every outing since a 1-0 defeat by Republic of Ireland, in May 2011. “The football we now play is pleasing on the eye,” he contended. It is “a million miles from” what was produced in Prague, with the infamous 4-6-0 line-up, Levein added.
The manager gives the impression that he relishes the war of attrition. If such attempts to justify himself mean he is deflecting the attention, and the criticism, away from the players, then he is happy to be the one at the sharp end. He is, though, also where the buck has to stop, even if it is also time for these players to show why Levein routinely insists they deserve to be considered top-rate performers.
He stood by them again yesterday, although it does seem he will go some of the way towards satisfying those who thirst for change following Saturday’s underwhelming performance against Serbia, whose pot two billing has failed to arrest a slump to within five places of Scotland in the Fifa rankings.
Levein agreed that the team must adopt a “high tempo” setting for a match which, although he wasn’t prepared to describe as must-win, he conceded would leave him “disappointed” if three points were not gathered by a Scotland team in need of some momentum ahead of two away appointments with Wales and Belgium next month. “I have not made many decisions about the team yet,” he stated. “I have three players who have injuries. I am in limbo.”
Goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Matt Gilks are giving the manager cause for concern due to groin injuries, while midfielder Charlie Adam has also picked up a strain. Both Adam and James Morrison, who were among the most obviously below-par performers on Saturday, are set to keep their places in a five-man midfield. Levein is adamant that the 4-1-4-1 system will remain in place, although there is likely to be a change in personnel.
“It really is a difficult one, trying to harness knowledge about previous double-headers,” he said. He intends to look back at recent experience of such quick-fire appointments, with the recovery time having been reduced by Scotland’s desire to play their opening fixture on a Saturday afternoon. “An extra day would have been helpful,” admitted Levein.
James Forrest’s industrious and eye-catching cameo may see him handed his first competitive start for his country this evening, while James Mackie could also be rewarded for the impact he made during a ten-minute cameo at the end of Saturday’s game. Given the enthusiasm he showed for Mackie and Forrest, the question of whether Jordan Rhodes, the other substitute on Saturday, had also done enough to stake a starting berth had to be addressed.
Perverse to the end, Levein appeared to suggest that Rhodes, whose late introduction riled a large contingent of home supporters, was the most likely of the trio to start on the bench.
“Jordan Rhodes will be a top player for Scotland,” said Levein. “I am delighted they are chanting his name. I do not have any issue with that.
“In time, Jordan Rhodes will start regualarly,” he added. “My job is to have a level-headed look at things. He has just come out of League One and he has not really started his career in the Championship yet. I have guys playing in the Premiership and who are experienced and have been over the course before.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: East