Steve Clarke will return to see his grandchildren having left Scotland on something of a high and, for the time being, sitting pretty in one of the two places they covet in their World Cup qualifying group. He will know there is a lot still to do, including most probably securing a win in either Copenhagen or Vienna when the group resumes in the Autumn.
But as he has said, Scotland could go into the next round of three games – clashes with Denmark and Austria bookend a home fixture with Pot 6 team Moldova – feeling even better about themselves, perhaps having qualified for the knockout stage of a major finals for the first ever time. On Monday there will be just 70 days until Scotland kick off their Euro 2020 campaign against Czech Republic at Hampden.
Clarke is planning to spend his Easter weekend with his family before turning his attention to his squad for the Euros.
It’s understood the usual 23-man limit could be increased due to the threat of a Covid-19 outbreak within a camp. It will give Clarke some more leeway when it comes to the difficult process of who he picks to represent Scotland at their first finals since 1998.
That won’t be where the tough decisions stop, however. These are some talking points which will need to be addressed before kick-off against Czech Republic ten weeks on Monday. Enjoy your (short) break, Steve.
David Marshall or Craig Gordon
Marshall is considered to have blotted his copybook in the eyes of many people for being at fault for two of the three goals conceded by Scotland against Austria and Israel, which goes to show how quickly a player’s stock can fall.
He might certainly have done better for the long distance shot from Austria’s Florian Grillitsch in the lead up to the visitors’ first goal at Hampden but it’s harsh to blame only him for Israel’s opener, which was a well-hit strike from Dor Peretz that moved in the air. Craig Gordon stepped in against the Faroe Isles and while he made a couple of decent saves, particularly when tipping over a fierce effort from Brandur Hendriksson, he also made a worse slip than Marshall when spilling the ball at the feet of a Faroese attacker. Fortunately, Joan Edmundsson could not gather. Unless he fails to play regularly for Derby County between now and the end of the season, Marshall should be considered No 1. He’s been generally superb for Clarke.
Scott McTominay: where does he play?
It’s a welcome problem for Clarke; where do you play someone who’s invariably one of the best players in the side whether deployed in defence or midfield. It was helpful to be able to drop him back into defence against the Faroese as it meant ensuring there were defenders on either side of Grant Hanley who were comfortable on the ball and going forward. It’s likely Clarke will aim to put him in midfield when the Euros comes around – it’s where he stars for Manchester United after all. Willie Miller suggested on radio that McTominay should not accept being buffeted around. Why not? He knows it’s for the benefit of the team and is displaying no signs of huffiness. He’s been a perfect team player under Clarke – and before him, Alex McLeish.
Che Adams or Lyndon Dykes:
At the end of last year, it would amount to sacrilege were anyone to suggest Clarke might look elsewhere for a No 9. Back then there was jubilation that finally Scotland had found what they were looking for in a physically imposing striker who could hold the ball up and - get this - score a goal or two. An arduous campaign in the Championship with QPR is taking its toll and while Dykes has still contributed, it’s unlikely Clarke will be pitching two strikers into the fray against Czech Republic – or England and Croatia for that matter. One of them will start with other likely to come on, depending on circumstances. As it stands, Adams looks to be in the box seat after three assured Scotland performances. He brings that extra bit of quality and will surely lead the line in the first game.
Ryan Christie: What’s happened?
Like Dykes, he was not so long ago reckoned to be stick on for a place in the starting XI come 14 June. That’s not the case now. He has struggled for form along with several Celtic stars in recent weeks. While he did start against Austria, he came on at half-time against Israel – admittedly helping his side stage a recovery – and was not seen at all against the Faroes. With John McGinn excelling in the No 10 role, Christie might be restricted to a place among the substitutes – although, as he proved in Tel Aviv, what a good option to have.
The Tierney-Robertson conundrum
Mercifully, this isn’t a talking point any longer. As Clarke said on the eve of the Faroe Islands game, “discussion over”. We know they can play together, it’s just a question of which system. If it’s a four-man defence, does Tierney play as the left centre-back or will he be deployed at left back with Robertson in midfield? It’s more likely Clarke will start with a three. Grant Hanley has timed his late run well and seems to be the current first choice for the middle centre-half role at the expense of Declan Gallagher and Scott McKenna. It means fielding the irresistible Tierney at left centre-back – though maybe not overlapping quite as much as against the Faroe Islands, when he became the first player to claim three assists in a Scotland match at Hampden since Kevin de Bruyne for Belgium in a 4-0 win in September 2019.