Scotland team to play Cyprus: 5 big decisions for Steve Clarke ahead of opening Euro 2024 qualifier

Scotland get their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign up and running against Cyprus in front of a big crowd at Hampden Park on Saturday afternoon. For manager Steve Clarke there are a number of big decisions to be made from who starts between the sticks to which system the team play.


Scotland come into this huge double header with three uncapped goalkeepers. Craig Gordon’s season-ending injury while playing for Hearts on Christmas Eve ensured Clarke would have a big decision to make straight away when the squad was being put together. After much speculation, recently and in years previous, Angus Gunn has been called up after impressing in the Championship with Norwich City. In terms of goals prevented, he is the best performing No.1 in the English second tier. There is an expectation that he will be the man chosen for Saturday's fixture. At 27, and having played in the top two tiers in England, plus being involved in big-money transfers, he appears to be someone who could have a long-term future as a Scotland No.1. It will be between him and Zander Clark for the starting berth. Clark has filled in impressively at Tynecastle Park and has arguably been the club’s most consistent performer since replacing Gordon at Tannadice following his horrific double leg break. As for Liam Kelly, he is a good goalkeeper who has had a difficult season.


When criticism comes Clarke’s way, the system is often a facet which is brought up. With Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson, the former Kilmarnock manager found a way of playing which got them playing in the same line-up and, at times, to devastating effect down the left-hand side. There was an idea Clarke was wedded to it but last year he demonstrated ample flexibility when he set up the team with a back four in the triple header in September which brought a win and a draw against Ukraine and a victory over Ireland. The caveat is that Scotland were without Andy Robertson so there was no need to get both the Liverpool captain and Tierney in the side. When Robertson returned for the friendly with Ukraine it was back to a back three which it is likely to be against Cyprus and Spain. On first look there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of attacking width but Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Christie have played wide forward roles, while Jacob Brown has been playing on the right for Stoke City. Still, with the defensive and midfield options, it will likely be a back three with the option to switch.


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Clarke is without Jack Hendry and Scott McKenna who have done well in previous camps, prompting the first ever call-up for Dominic Hyam of Blackburn Rovers. There does, however, appear to be an obvious three-man backline in Tierney on the left, Ryan Porteous on the right and Grant Hanley as the central stopper. The latter has been a regular in the English Championship, while Porteous has settled in well at Watford and the right-side of a three would suit his ability to play out from the back and break lines with his incisive passing. He also has the experience of having performed so well on his debut in the 0-0 draw with Ukraine in Poland. Due to a recent injury and relevant game time, Aaron Hickey will likely be chosen ahead of the exceptionally talented Nathan Patterson.

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Steve Clarke has a number of big decisions to make for Scotland's Euro 2024 qualifying opener against Cyprus. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Steve Clarke has a number of big decisions to make for Scotland's Euro 2024 qualifying opener against Cyprus. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Steve Clarke has a number of big decisions to make for Scotland's Euro 2024 qualifying opener against Cyprus. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

There are only a handful of players who can consider themselves certain to start. The Celtic captain is one of them. He has been so impressive for Scotland recently and continues to have such a positive influence in the heart of the Scottish champions’ midfield and as a leader. When paired with Ryan Jack, the duo have complemented one another. The Rangers midfielder is a steady and intelligent presence on the ball and perhaps one Clarke will view as important to face Spain due to his ball-keeping ability. The last thing you want to do against the Spaniards is give them back possession and then have to go chasing again. With Spain in mind, Scott McTominay could be a more direct option against Cyprus. Despite his game time at Manchester United, his legs could be really helpful against a possible low block from Cyprus.

The attacking balance

The Scotland squad is not overflowing with out-and-out strikers. Che Adams will start and it is hard to see Lyndon Dykes, who has recovered from pneumonia, being his partner from the start, especially after the duo didn’t work as a pair in that defeat to Ukraine in qualifying for the World Cup. The former Livingston hitman will be a huge presence off the bench when he is required to disrupt or the team needs to go more direct. John McGinn will, of course, support Adams. There is plenty of choice regarding the final piece of the attacking puzzle. Ryan Christie is capable of moments of magic and has an excellent work-rate. Stuart Armstrong is a brilliant player off the ball and can contribute with goals and assists. Then there is Lewis Ferguson. Of the three, he has been the most impressive for his club side, performing so well in his debut season with Bologna. He has become a key feature of Thiago Motta’s side, scoring his fourth goal at the weekend. He can fill different midfield roles but is very good at getting beyond the striker, stretching the game and getting into goal-scoring positions.

Possible Scotland XI to face Cyprus: Gunn; Porteous, Hanley, Tierney; Hickey, McTominay, McGregor, Robertson; McGinn, Armstrong; Adams.



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