I left a message on Gordon Strachan’s phone earlier this week. We get on well and I wanted to ask how he felt in the build-up to the Canada game.
He called me back but I missed him. When we eventually did talk I explained the reason I missed his call was I had been watching a documentary on the 1970 Brazil team, which recalled how they used so many No.10s.
Their coach, Mario Zagallo, was ridiculed for thinking he could play Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Gerson and Tostao together. But of course they won the World Cup.
I am not suggesting to Gordon or anyone else that Scotland can take the Brazil approach against Slovenia! But Tom Cairney, who had such a promising debut against Canada, and Stuart Armstrong both like the No.10 position, as does Robert Snodgrass, who has been playing there for West Ham. There’s no reason why they can’t all play together.
After all, we need an aggressive approach tonight. We need to play all our best players when we can – just like Brazil did.
I remember writing in this column before the Lithuania game in October that I felt it was a must-win game – and it was. Not because we didn’t have time within the campaign to make amends for any slips-up, but because three points there made winning away from home less of a necessity.
Of course it finished 1-1, putting us under pressure almost immediately. When we went to Slovakia and England we were suddenly thinking we need three points instead of just one, which normally would be a good return.
Gordon’s selection against England reflected the fact he was thinking we needed a win to get us back into the reckoning in the group. We lost 3-0. It wasn’t a bad performance but showed our frailties in defence again and the lack of a clinical side to our attack.
We have now left ourselves in a position where it’s a do-or-die game. Even Gordon is conceding this.
That means that while you have to keep the back door shut you also have to force the issue and try to get the crowd going from the off. We need to be able to create scoring opportunities from a vast array of places and not be predictable. Against Canada at Easter Road we didn’t excite the crowd or give a great deal of optimism for today. But I know how hard it can be in friendlies when there’s a lack of edge.
Just to make matters worse it was a horrendous pitch, terrible conditions and our team looked like they had just been thrown together.
You could see Scotland were the better side but Canada were dangerous on the break. It was Fraser Aird who looked like he enjoyed the match the most. He gave Lee Wallace a real tough time. I wonder if Gordon had given Oli Burke the go ahead to neglect all his defensive duties? I am not sure Lee would’ve been happy with that!
That performance has no bearing on tonight, both personnel-wise or tactically. Gordon said it was a good game to have because he learned a lot.
But there were few positives other than Ikechi Anya going forward and Cairney looking comfortable in his surroundings.
Other than that there was not much from a positive point of view. But on the negative side there were a few things flagged up, including how fragile we looked at the back again.
I would stick with Anya, who has shown enough to prove he offers an attacking threat. But he needs to do better defensively. There’s an argument to play Andrew Robertson on the right but I think Anya will get the nod.
If you play a left-back at right-back you lose a natural attacking threat, because left-footed players will do everything they can to get the ball on their left foot. Anya offers a more natural attacking threat going on the outside.
Then it comes down to a straight fight between Kieran Tierney and Robertson at left-back. I think Tierney is slightly ahead.
If Gordon is thinking of going with a back four then I’d be happy with a 1-4-1 in front. Snodgrass can play on the right with Armstrong and Cairney taking up more central positions where they both excel and the pace and directness of either Ryan Fraser, if he has recovered from his tight hamstring, or James Forrest.
That would be a very attacking line-up even before we consider the striker, who I think will be Steven Fletcher. Gordon seems to like a more physical presence up front.
With Anya and Tierney it’s very attacking. But it means the full-backs can go on the outside and overlap if the wide players come inside. What the 4-1-4-1 formation provides is a shape which is hard to break down when you are not in possession of the ball.
But when attacking, it can easily become 4-3-3.
So my team to get the win we need is: Gordon; Anya, R Martin, Mulgrew, Tierney; Brown; Snodgrass, Cairney, Armstrong, Fraser/Forrest; S Fletcher.