5 reasons Scotland fans should be sceptical about our chances of defeating Serbia
Scotland possess some real quality. Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney are among world’s best left-backs, while John McGinn and Stuart Armstrong are star midfielders for high-flying English Premier League teams. However, there isn't the same pedigree throughout the squad as there is in Serbia's. Seventeen of Scotland's travelling party play in the English Championship or Scottish Premiership. With numerous players in the top leagues in Spain, Italy, France and Portugal, Serbia only have a handful of talents who play at a level similar or worse than most of their opponents.
Since the famous victory in the Park des Princes thirteen years ago, Scotland have won just two competitive away fixtures against opponents similar to Serbia's standing in international football: Croatia in 2013 and the victory over the Czech Republic a couple of months ago. Even those wins have the caveats of the former being a dead-rubber match and the latter seeing the entire first-choice Czech squad being ruled out due to Covid-19. There's just no recent history of Scotland winning big games away from Hampden.
Too much, too soon
Winning three matches with three clean sheets is, undeniably, superb, but far too much was made of Scotland's improvement over last month's international triple-header. The 0-0 penalty shoot-out triumph against Israel was painful to watch. The Slovakia match was better, but the visitors changed almost their entire team and didn't seem to be taking the Nations League fixture as seriously as their hosts. Then there was the Czech Republic game. A great defensive performance, yes, but the away side did miss at least two sitters and Scotland were more than fortunate to survive with a win.
There's no doubt there has been an improvement over recent fixtures, but the team have still haven’t come close to achieving their collective potential. A match of this magnitude against strong opposition is arriving a little too soon.
Disrupting a winning formula
Who do you play? Andrew Considine or Kieran Tierney? The answer should be easy. You play the £25million Arsenal defender over the Aberdeen centre-back who's typically shunted out to left-back for his club. But football isn't always that simple. Tierney won't have anywhere near as much experience playing in a defence that will expected to do nothing else except clear its lines. Steve Clarke did a terrific job of putting together a winning structure from the mismatched parts following the six late drop-outs in the last international break, but will the temptation to bring the majority of those players back into the starting XI affect the harmony? It could easily.
Loss of Ryan Fraser
Playing as the speedster in the little-and-large partnership with Lyndon Dykes, Fraser excelled up front in each of the last two games, including scoring the only goal in the win over the Czech Republic. However, he's absent through injury and there isn't an obvious contender to take his place. Leigh Griffiths could do it, but isn't expected to be fit enough to last the 90 minutes, let alone the possibility of 120. Oliver Burke may be preferred, but his lack of technical and tactical strength makes him a significant downgrade on the Newcastle winger. He could be a huge miss.
If you prefer boring old pessimism, an alternative ‘5 reasons...’ article is also available on Scotsman.com.
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