Steve Clarke watched on in his typical stoney expression as Scotland lost their opening group game 0-2. The former Chelsea defender had helped Scotland to their first major tournament in 23 years but the first game back ended in misery. Clarke’s side were beaten by a brace from Czech striker Patrik Schick on either side of half time.
It was a poor return for Scotland given that they had beaten the Czechs in their last three meetings and created (and spurred opportunities). There were a number of eyebrows raised across the country when the team sheet was revealed. No Kieran Tierney and Clarke favourite Callum McGregor was on the bench.
One key area that left Scotland utterly exposed was in the right wingback area. Stephen O’Donnell looked to be utterly out of his depth as he squandered possession, failed to close down a cross and even tackled Ryan Christie in a promising position. Clarke has options there – he can retain O’Donnell, having trusted him at Killie, or integrated Patterson or James Forrest in a role similar to the one that Brendan Rodgers used him in vs Bayern in the Champions League.
There is also an argument for who starts in attack against England. Lyndon Dykes, Che Adams and Ryan Christie will all hope to be considered for various reasons and the manager knows that he cannot afford to get it wrong.
However, there is one person that really needs to start in the game this evening – Callum McGregor. The 27-year-old does everything. He attacks, he defends and he never stops running. Many feel that the player was not right to play against the Czechs but an indifferent display from Armstrong, McTominay and McGinn proved that Clarke was wrong to select McGregor, something he tried to rectify when the game was already gone.
McGinn and McGregor allow Scotland to go forward while retaining that defensive stability. Their ability to pass between the lines as well as cover large distances are why Clarke has been so keen to pair them together. McGinn is probably a bit more combative while McGregor is more composed on the ball, either way they need to partner up against a very strong England midfield.
Scotland’s main outlet in attack tends to be the overlap on the left flank with Liverpool’s Andy Robertson galloping forward to drive a cross in. McGregor’s movement and weight of pass could be integral for opening up space here and allowing the Scotland skipper to make his way forward. You so often saw under Brendan Rodgers how well KT and McGregor linked in that position and Clarke should try and replicate that with Robertson.
McGinn was nullified by Soucek, the West Ham man marked the Aston Villa star out the game whilst the Czechs forced Scotland to their left flank (as they likely preferred the prospect of defending against a Motherwell fullback as opposed to a Champions League winner). McGregor’s place in the team always ensures creativity and tactical knowledge. He and McGinn would’ve likely been able to help break into that Czech final third and create more chances.
There are cases to be made for other Celts but the stick-on is McGregor. He needs to start if Scotland are to have any chance of snatching a result from England.