Scotland squad talking points: why no Zander Clark, and curious inclusions of Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong

There weren’t any surprises to have jaws thumping on floors in the latest Scotland squad announced by Steve Clarke, for the pivotal World Cup qualifying double-header that will bring games against Israel and the Faroe Islands next month. Eyebrows could only twitch over certain calls, though…

St Johnstone keeper Zander Clark warms up for Scotland ahead of last month's World Cup qualifying win over Moldova, in what has now proved the briefest stint in the nation set-up. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

A custard for Clark

St Johnstone’s Zander Clark can only feel dumped over being dumped by the Scotland manager as a result of his decision to restore Motherwell’s Liam Kelly and Rangers’ no.2 Jon McLaughlin after they were unavailable for the last squad. Clark, even behind an ever-changing backline, has been in fine form, and arguably been less erratic than either Kelly or McLaughlin. Three league clean sheets for him in the cinch Premiership is a total bettered only by Hibs’ Matt Macey. Clark’s elevation to the national team squad seemed overdue when he earned that last month. His jettisoning now seems premature.

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McGregor’s uncertain availability

It is questionable as to whether Callum McGregor will feature for Celtic in their league jaunt to Aberdeen on Sunday; his manager Ange Postecoglou having doused hopes he could be available for Thursday’s Europa League encounter at home to Bayer Leverkusen. The Celtic captain’s hamstring problem, which first reared up with Scotland last month, has now resulted in him being sidelined for four games - the longest spell out in six years. It doesn’t make him appear an obvious pick for the crucial encounters with Israel and Faroe Islands in only a fortnight.

Where is the required game-time for Armstrong?

Stuart Armstrong’s return to the Scotland squad on the back of missing out on the last one through injury appeared a curious development. The Southampton midfielder hasn’t enjoyed any competitive minutes at all this season, as the result of “muscle problems” that have become “less intense” his club manager Ralph Hasenhuttl said the other week. His last competitive minutes were actually for Scotland in the June Euro 2020 exit against Croatia in June. All of this begs the question: what sort of nick can Armstrong possibly be in right now? Hasenhuttl said the player would be given “all the time he needs” to achieve the necessary fitness levels to rejoin the struggling English Premier League team’s squad. It hardly sounds like he is in the best shape to make a contribution for Scotland against Israel in October 9.

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