Scotland team v Spain: How Steve Clarke could line up without Kieran Tierney in Euro 2024 qualifier

Steve Clarke is facing a major decision over his team selection as Scotland look to secure qualification for Euro 2024 with a positive result in Spain on Thursday evening.

A win or a draw in the 7.45pm (UK time) kick-off at the Estadio La Cartuja in Seville will guarantee a top two finish in Group A and clinch Scotland’s place at the finals in Germany next summer leaving Norway and Spain to fight it out for the other spot.

Scotland will be without Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack and Millwall striker Kevin Nisbet, both having withdrawn from the original squad in recent days due to injury, although neither were likely to start against Spain.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

One player who is an automatic first pick, however, is defender Kieran Tierney but the Arsenal left-back tore his hamstring playing for loan side Real Socieded in a La Liga fixure last weekend and is facing a potential three-month injury lay-off.

Scotland players train at Lesser Hampden on Wednesday before flying out to Seville to face Spain in a Euro 2024 qualifier. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)Scotland players train at Lesser Hampden on Wednesday before flying out to Seville to face Spain in a Euro 2024 qualifier. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Scotland players train at Lesser Hampden on Wednesday before flying out to Seville to face Spain in a Euro 2024 qualifier. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

This presents Clarke with a dilemma as his entire system – a three-man defence with wing-backs – was devised around ensuring both Tierney and Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson, two of his star players who play in the same position, could fit into the same starting XI.

With no natural replacement for Tierney at left centre-half, no defender who can drive the ball forward and link up with Robertson in advanced areas in the manner that the former Celtic man can, it begs the question whether Clarke should revert to four at the back.

As he did with great success last September when ensuring a Scotland without both players available at the same time claimed 3-0 and 2-1 wins over Ukraine and Ireland respectively at Hampden, then a goalless draw with Ukraine in Poland, to clinch promotion to Nations League A and secure a guaranteed, but hopefully now obselete, Euro 2024 play-off.

The success of the system change for that memorable triple-header may come into Clarke’s thinking ahead of facing a Spain side who cannot afford another slip up and who will be gunning for revenge following the 2-0 defeat in Glasgow in March.

Angus Gunn is the obvious pick between the sticks, the Norwich goalkeeper having yet to concede a goal from open play in a competitive international since winning his first cap against Cyrpus at the start of the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, notwithstanding the 3-1 friendly defeat to England last month.

The most likely centre-back pairing, based on minutes played together for country and for their seperate clubs across the season as a whole, would be Watford’s Ryan Porteous and Saudi Arabia-based Jack Hendry, now of Al-Ettifaq following his move from Club Brugge in the summer.

The duo formed a rock-solid partnership in that goalless draw away to Ukraine last year in what was Porteous’ senior international debut so Clarke knows he can trust the pair to perform alongside each other in a high-stakes scenario such as the one facing them in Seville.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Aaron Hickey is having a superb season with Brentford in the English Premier League and is a stick-on for the right-back slot while captain Andy Robertson will make up the back four and look to lead the team from the left-back area as he has done with such distinction across the entire campaign.

Playing one less centre-back opens the door for Clarke to bring an extra midfielder into his line-up. The certain starters are likely to be Callum McGregor and Billy Gilmour – who have formed a telepathic relationship since first being paired together in the goalless draw against England at Wembley in Euro 2021 – along with John McGinn and Scott McTominay, the midfield duo who just can’t stop scoring for Scotland, with the Aston Villa captain now on 17 goals for his country while the Manchester United man, fresh from scoring a double off the bench against Brentford on Saturday, has netted six in this campaign alone.

Clarke will then have a choice between Ryan Christie, Lewis Ferguson and Stuart Armstrong for the final midfield berth, likely to be the most advanced in support of the lone striker. Based on club form, Ferguson ought to be the frontrunner, given his outstanding start to the season with Bologna in Serie A, where he has played every minute of every game, scoring one and contributing three assists, as well as taking on the club captaincy.

But if Clarke, as he often tends to, goes for his tried and trusted lieutenants on the big stage then it would be hard to look past either Christie or Armstrong, who have 39 and 47 caps to their respective names. Christie has been playing regularly for a struggling Bournemouth side in the EPL, while Armstrong recently won his starting place back at Southampton and has responded with a goal in each of his last two games in the Championship, including a stunning 30-yard free-kick against Stoke City. It could be a toss of the coin between the two to start in Spain.

The lone striker role is likely to be a straight choice between Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams. Neither have been in prolific form this season with Dykes managing just one goal for QPR thus far and Adams netting three for Southampton but none since August 19. Recent goal ratio will not be Clarke’s biggest concern when picking between the two with whoever gets the nod set to be tasked with performing a selfless act up front, chasing down the Spain defence, holding the ball up and bringing the team up the park at every available opportunity. Both players have shown they are capable of performing this role for Scotland, but Adams has had the edge on Dykes when it comes to starting matches under Clarke, with Dykes likely to be given a chance to make an impact off the bench late in the game.

Probable Scotland XI (4-3-2-1): Gunn; Hickey, Porteous, Hendry, Robertson; Gilmour, McGregor, McGinn; McTominay, Christie; Adams.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.