Scotland XI v Ukraine: Defensive conundrum, midfield issues, play-off defeat influence but obvious line-up?

Scotland are shaping up for an important triple header in their pursuit of Euro 2024 qualification. No one needs reminding how important the Nations League can be.

It was through that avenue that the national team finally got back to the finals of a tournament for the first time since 1998 when they overcame Serbia via a penalty shoot-out to reach Euro 2020.

Winning a group which features Ukraine, Ireland and Armenia would see promotion to League A but more importantly it would put the country in a great position to qualify even if that is not achieved through Euro 2024 qualification as one of the top two in a yet to be drawn group.

The importance of these two meetings with Ukraine and Ireland sandwiched in between should not be downplayed. Seven points will ensure the group is won.

With that, the make-up of Steve Clarke’s starting XI for tonight’s Ukraine clash in Mount Florida intrigues with key stars in Andy Robertson and Grant Hanley absent.

Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon will be a stick-on between the sticks and should, by featuring in all three games, move into sixth in the all-time cap list for the men's national team.

It is the defence in front of him which has been at the forefront of most discussion due to the aforementioned absentees with Craig Halkett and John Souttar also missing, yet still no place for Hearts ace Stephen Kingsley.

When speaking about Ryan Porteous and the Hibs defender’s chances of making his Scotland debut, Clarke noted he only has “three players that would be recognised as central defenders”.

Steve Clarke's Scotland XI intrigues for Wednesday's Ukraine game. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Obvious defensive selection?

However, it is hard to see past what is quite an obvious selection, including two players who would not “be recognised as central defenders”.

Kieran Tierney, you think, will be the first name on the team-sheet and the left of a back three. On the other side Scott McTominay should get the nod. Clarke is a big fan of Jack Hendry but the former Celtic defender has played just 100 minutes of football having made a transfer switch from Belgium to Italy late in the window.

The Scotland boss is an even bigger fan of McTominay who remains a regular for Manchester United. The one thing which might play on his mind is the players’ struggles at centre-back the last time out against Ukraine and a more positive influence when moved into midfield.

Scott McKenna, now in the Premier League with Nottingham Forest, will likely fill the stopper role in the middle.

With Robertson out there is a choice to make at wing-back. Nathan Patterson is nailed on for the right-sided role. He has been in tremendous form, proving exactly why Everton paid such a fee for him and that he has more than enough talent to cut it at Premier League level. For the first time in his Scotland career he joins up with the team having had a proper run of fixtures as a first-team starter at club level.

On the other side it is a decision between Greg Taylor and Aaron Hickey. The latter has started brilliantly at Brentford but on the right, while the former has been one of Celtic’s best players and a key contributor to the team’s attack. Due to Clarke’s past with Taylor it is hard to look past the former Kilmarnock ace.

A 2-1 rather than 1-2

For a long period the midfield has been Scotland's shining light, one which has a blend of control, direction, ability to handle the ball under pressure and intensity without it. However, Ryan Jack, Billy Gilmour and John McGinn have all had difficult periods of late, whether it is finding their rhythm following injury, a drop in form or moving clubs.

Still, Callum McGregor will be that reliable presence alongside Gilmour whose talent cannot be doubted or underestimated. As for McGinn, he is the country’s talisman, summoning extra powers in the shirt of his country.

McGinn should form part of an attacking duo behind Che Adams.

Scotland lined up with a front two against Ukraine in the World Cup play-off. It was a decision this writer supported but the execution wasn’t there on the night at Hampden Park with the visitors dominating the midfield.

Clarke will likely go with a 2-1 rather than 1-2. That means McGinn and Ryan Christie in support of Adams. That trio gives Scotland a nice blend in attack with plenty of energy and industry off the ball and a whole lot of technical quality, movement and goal threat with it..

The team which goes out tonight will have the quality to overcome a Ukraine side missing Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Predicted Scotland line-up – Gordon; McTominay, McKenna, Tierney; Patterson, Gilmour, McGregor, Taylor; Christie, McGinn; Adams.

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