Steve Clarke facing selection poser after Scotland system switch earns draw

Steve Clarke saw his side claim another draw in Israel
Steve Clarke saw his side claim another draw in Israel (AP)
16:08pm, Mon 29 Mar 2021
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Scotland boss Steve Clarke was left with as many questions as answers after a second draw in two World Cup qualifiers.

Scotland again started slowly and came from behind to draw 1-1 in Israel following their home draw with Austria.

Having lost 1-0 twice in November, including their final Nations League game in Israel, Clarke will again take positives from the way his side recovered after a poor first half.

But, although he was careful not to dramatize Scotland’s qualifying predicament, Clarke will know that two opening draws have left his side needing to pull off some big results later in the campaign.

Ryan Fraser (AP)

One result they will definitely need is a home win against the Faroe Islands on Wednesday and Clarke has some selection posers following their opening two games.

With Scotland struggling, Clarke took off defender Jack Hendry for attacking midfielder Ryan Christie at half-time and switched to a 4-2-3-1. The effect was instant and Ryan Fraser levelled inside 11 minutes.

Having moved Scott McTominay up into midfield, the three-at-the-back formation meant he had five natural defenders in his starting line-up. But Scotland conceded a series of first-half chances and Andy Robertson again struggled to excel as a wing-back.

Kieran Tierney again performed well, even after the tactical switch left him playing a more natural centre-back role, and former Scotland player and coach Stuart McCall feels Clarke will keep using both formations.

Stuart McCall (PA Archive)

“Once he made the change at half-time, Scotland looked more assured, played higher up the park, they put the press higher and just looked a better side for it,” McCall told Sky Sports News.

“I’ve been a manager and it’s horses for courses. For me, what’s brought us success has been the back three. But certainly Steve saw plan A wasn’t working, and you bring your plan B out.

“It got us more players into the middle of the park, we looked a threat, we squeezed the game higher up, hence the goal that we got. And we just looked better for that.

“Some games you will need a back three but at half-time he made the right call.”

Getting another forward-thinking player on would make sense against the Faroes but there are longer-term questions over Clarke’s formation with little opportunity for experimentation ahead of the Euro 2020 finals.

The former West Brom and Kilmarnock boss had always been a back-four disciple before opting for three centre-backs with Scotland in a bid to accommodate both Robertson and Tierney.

McCall said: “Andy Robertson played a lot better when he was deeper. When he plays as a wing-back and he is picking the ball up higher up, it’s different.

“At Liverpool, they come off the line and he goes round them, and that’s what happened with Fraser. He looked more comfortable playing as a natural left-back.

Kieran Tierney (AP)

“I thought Tierney showed his versatility, started in a back three and then went to a left-sided centre-half. Unless he is playing against a 6ft 2in giant as a centre-forward then he is comfortable there as well.”

Those questions can be pondered in the coming months but Clarke’s immediate priority is to beat the Faroes and the encouraging performance of Che Adams in Israel should see the Southampton man continue up front.

Speaking after the game, Clarke said: “From being 1-0 down, international football is difficult. Last time we went 1-0 down in November just before half-time, we lost the game. We managed to get something out the game this time, so we will take that as a positive and move on.

“As a team we are still growing, still trying to get better. We tend to get into good positions and just lack a little bit of quality in the final pass and execution, but it’s something we can keep working on.”

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