The Aston Villa midfielder has been pushed further forward into what is essentially a second striker role in a system that has shown promise, just as the player finds himself struggling to be fit for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel at Hampden on 26 March following an ankle break.
Clarke doesn’t pretend that the McGinn-shaped hole in his team will be easy to fill. But the Scotland manager is reluctant to alter the system he has settled upon.
“I think I know how I want to play,” said Clarke, inset. “The shape of the team since I took over has been quite consistent. We found a good way of playing, with John the link between the midfield and forwards.
“Fingers crossed his improvement is quick and his recovery is good. There are a number of players who can play there. That position you can either play a striker as a second striker, or a midfielder as a third midfield player. We found a way of doing it with John.
“If John is not available I would need to look at other options in midfield. Whether they can do the role the same as John is open to debate.”
Fitness permitting, Clarke seems set on anchoring his midfield with Callum McGregor and Ryan Jack, even though a number of others are making powerful claims for involvement against Israel. Stuart Armstrong has been pivotal in Southampton’s recent resurgence, Sheffield United playmaker John Fleck is going from strength to strength, and Kenny McLean is acquitting himself well in difficult circumstances at Norwich City.
“Stuart’s done well,” Clarke said. “He got his chance and he’s grabbed it with both hands.
“John has been good. I enjoy watching Sheffield United play as they have been refreshing.
“Kenny McLean is also doing well. But I have to be honest, I thought the balance in the midfield in the last couple of games was really good with Ryan Jack and Callum McGregor. I thought they were excellent together.”