Some fear a beating for the national team in North London following despair at Hampden. Whilst menacing England attackers like Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Phil Foden cannot be underestimated, there is an argument that, of Scotland’s three Group D fixtures, this one suits Clarke best.
His managerial career is littered with examples of taking a relatively provincial side away to a more intimidating opponent and digging out a result. Indeed, it became his speciality at Kilmarnock and helped earn him his current position with the Scottish Football Association.
Supporters adored Clarke’s pragmatic but effective tactics from the minute he strolled into Rugby Park. He was a defender of some repute in his playing days and has coached under Jose Mourinho, Ruud Gullit, Kenny Dalglish and Gianfranco Zola to name a few.
He enjoys the strategic side of the game as a manager, although the two Czech goals on Monday didn’t do anyone any favours in that department.
He will set Scotland up with a rigid back line on Friday with much depending on the fitness of Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney. The objective will be to close gaps, restrict space and be ready to hit quickly on the break against a far-from-impregnable English rearguard. It is the Clarke way which worked at so many big grounds around Britain – including Wembley.
The first game of his Kilmarnock tenure finished 1-1 against Rangers at Ibrox in October 2017. Three days later, his new team earned the same scoreline away to Celtic. The following week, they enjoyed a 2-1 success away to Hearts. Killie then beat Rangers and Celtic at home before further draws at Tynecastle and Pittodrie.
Towards the end of that 2017/18 campaign, they beat Rangers away and took another draw from a visit to Celtic Park. They’d gone from bottom of the league to fifth under Clarke, who collected Manager of the Year awards from PFA Scotland and the Scottish Football Writers Association. The Ayrshire club would qualify for Europe the following season.
Last time Clarke managed at Wembley he came frighteningly close to causing a major upset. He guided Reading to a first FA Cup semi-final for 88 years and took Arsenal to extra-time with another precise and diligent defensive display in April 2015. Only Alexis Sanchez’s winner prevented penalties.
There were also wins at Cardiff City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and twice away to Derby that season.
Evidence of his pragmatism can be traced back to his first job as head coach of West Bromwich Albion between June 2012 and December 2013. Clarke guided the Midlands club to an eighth-place finish in the English Premier League thanks to major results like a draw at Tottenham, a 2-0 win at Liverpool and a 3-0 victory away to Southampton.
The following season, a win at Manchester United and a draw at Chelsea underlined his ability to upset teams with bigger reputations and more resources.
With all of the above in mind, he is right to relish a crack at England. Let’s hope he continues to thrive in David-versus-Goliath scenarios.