Main photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald
By Daryn MacRae
Scotland host England on June 10 in what has become a must-win game for Gordon Strachan’s side as they look to keep their slim chance of making next summer’s European Championships alive.
By looking back at the match between the two in November, and dissecting Iceland’s success at the European Championships, Scotland can learn from their mistakes and develop a master plan to give them the best possible chance of securing three crucial points.
Scotland must use their heads like England did last time
With both sides treating the ball like a hot potato, the first encounter between the two sides at Wembley was typified by a simple method of chance creation that has become synonymous with British football. Set pieces and crosses proved the only route to goal, with England bagging a hat-trick of headers to punish a meek Scottish backline.
England downed Scotland with a hat-trick of headers at Wembley
A lack of height and physical presence in the ranks mean set pieces have been a persistent bug bare for Gordon Strachan, and formed the argument he put forward for leaving #shorty out of his previous starting line-ups. While the Scotland manager can’t find a magic formula to increase the height of Scottish footballers, an improved defensive structure would go a long way to minimising the minor panic and damage aerial duels seem to cause.
At Wembley full backs were key to the home side’s success, and must be subdued this time out. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose relentlessly surged forward to overload the Scotland back four in what has become a key feature of England’s attacking play. Scotland’s wide men failed to track the rampaging Spurs duo and paid the penalty. Whoever plays wide at Hampden must follow their task diligently.
Scotland’s wingers such as Robert Snodgrass have a tendency to cut inside, leaving the flank unattended as a result. A more disciplined approach, where the wingers stay wide and look to pin Walker and Rose back, is needed.
Time to keep cool by following the Iceland blueprint
Iceland, in their spectacular European Championships upset over Roy Hodgson’s side, exposing chinks in England’s armour Scotland would do well to note. The Scandinavians were able to both nullify the pace of England’s attackers by sitting particularly deep, and the threat posed by their full-backs by holding the width (as can be seen by wingers Bjarnason and Gudmundsson’s average positions below) in a rigid 4-4-2.
4-4-2 is a formation often written off as a throwback to a bygone era of route one football, but it’s one that, over recent years, has proven hugely successful (see Atletico and Leicester). The formation would serve Scotland well, especially since the Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong centre-midfield partnership has flourished of late. They have shown they legs and drive to cover the ground required by a midfield two.
Strachan has previously stated his qualms with playing Leigh Griffiths up front by himself. But Griffiths’ form towards the end of the SPFL season means he deserves a starting spot.
By fielding two strikers Strachan could accommodate the Celtic hitman alongside a partner more suited to holding the ball up, giving Scotland a much greater threat going forward. From a defensive standpoint, it also makes sense this time out as England, with ball-playing defenders such as John Stones at the back, like to play out. This becomes a tougher task with two forwards high up the pitch to press the centre-halves when in possession, as was shown in the first game between the two sides when Scotland’s high press early on caused England problems.
With this in mind, here’s a possible starting XI following the Icelandic blueprint: