Little for Scotland to fear against England or Croatia as Steve Clarke studies Euro 2020 opponents and how to exploit them

Friday’s trip to Wembley offers Scotland the chance to exploit an England side not yet firing on all cylinders.
England and Croatia clashed at Wembley, with the English prevailing 1-0.England and Croatia clashed at Wembley, with the English prevailing 1-0.
England and Croatia clashed at Wembley, with the English prevailing 1-0.

Sunday’s opening Group D match at Wembley was decided by Raheem Sterling’s second-half goal as the hosts overcame Croatia to earn three vital Euro 2020 points. For Scotland coach Steve Clarke, there was plenty knowledge to glean from two teams he will encounter following Monday’s first game against Czech Republic.

England’s attacking options remain their greatest strength. They didn’t reach the heights expected of them in an opening performance which was slightly underwhelming, but did enough to win.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Croatians didn’t offer much to trouble Gareth Southgate’s side. They typically prioritised possession, their trademark since the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. In attack they were toothless.

It took just 14 minutes for chants of “Scotland get battered everywhere they go” to emanate from the locals in London, followed by the old favourite “Eng-er-lund, Eng-er-lund”. Ignoring those wind-ups shouldn’t be difficult for the Scots. Their focus will be on targeting specific areas in England’s defence.

Kieran Trippier’s selection on the left of a back four was surprising ahead of specialist left-backs Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw. Right-footed left-backs always look awkward. It was a strange choice from Southgate, albeit Trippier just completed an outstanding season by winning the Spanish league title with Atletico Madrid.

Scotland will certainly feel they can get at him more than Croatia if he plays there on Friday night. Whether it’s Stephen O’Donnell or James Forrest on Clarke’s right flank, opportunities can be created down Trippier’s weaker left side with speed and overlaps.

In general, England’s defence did wobble when put under pressure. That just didn't happen very often. John Stones and Tyrone Mings started in central defence with Kyle Walker at right-back.

England began with a high press, which Scotland must be wary of, before the tempo slowed in 30-degree heat. The pace of Phil Foden and Sterling out wide were perennial threats in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Foden hit a post on five minutes and Sterling sprinted in behind Croatian defenders on three first-half occasions to collect loping forward balls. His ability to roam was outstanding – a potential concern for Scotland’s right wing-back and right centre-back, likely to be O’Donnell and Jack Hendry respectively.

The Manchester City winger struck on 57 minutes thanks to that intelligent movement. He drifted inside from wide left then made an incisive run through middle of Croatia’s defence to take Kalvin Phillips’ through ball and score.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That was sufficient for England but Scotland won’t quake in their boots ahead of Friday. Nor should they panic about facing Croatia at Hampden on Tuesday week.

Sterling’s repeated success in behind right-back Šime Vrsaljko and centre-back Domagoj Vida highlighted one weak point in the Balkan back line. On the other side, left-back Joško Gvardiol is only 19. This was only his second international outing and Clarke will have noticed the inexperience as a former full-back himself.

Croatia's midfield was ponderous and contributed to a slow start which handed England the initiative. The only one seriously capable of changing the pace of play was captain Luka Modrić. He needed more dynamism around him in a 4-3-3 system, and the lack of energy will encourage the likes of John McGinn.

A message from the Editor: Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our sports coverage with a digital sports subscription.