This Scottish football malarkey is exhausting, isn't it? We start the week congratulating Celtic on…
If you tuned in to Scotland’s latest foray into the world of international football then I understand your pain. If you didn’t, well you didn’t miss much. The Tartan Army’s latest stop off was in Peru in front of a passionate crowd in Lima. Alex McLeish’s makeshift side may have lost 2-0 but they weren’t in any way humiliated on the night.
In all honesty, expectations were low, and rightly so. This was a Scotland team missing a plethora of key names and which was vastly inexperienced. Moreover, they were up against a country in Peru who are buzzing ahead of the World Cup and on an unprecedented 12-game unbeaten run. To give you an idea of the gulf in experience, Scotland’s starting eleven had 59 caps between them whereas Peru’s had 525. In fact, Jefferson Farfan has more caps alone than the whole of Scotland’s team combined.
As much as it’s easy to scoff at a largely uninspiring match it still allows Alex McLeish to view a variety of fringe players. It also let us see how McLeish may potentially set up his team ahead of the Nations League and World Cup qualifiers. So what did we actually learn, if anything, from Scotland’s clash with Peru?
McLeish handed seven players their first Scotland caps and each endured varying degrees of success on their debut. Dylan McGeouch didn’t look at all out of place in the middle of the park, which shouldn’t be surprising given his tremendous form for Hibs this season. He quietly got on with his business and performed admirably given the constant pressure Scotland’s midfield were under.
Kilmarnock’s Stephen O’Donnell and Lewis Stevenson of Hibs also played their first games for their country at right and left-back respectively. Whilst both looked solid enough, there were numerous occasions where they were found playing too narrow and drawn in the front three of Peru. Whilst O’Donnell could feasibly be a backup option at right-back this is likely to be Stevenson’s last appearance on the left. Which is entirely understandable given we have two quality players in Andy Roberton and Kieran Tierney who also play there.
To the Jordan Archer-shaped elephant in the room. He’s been waiting for his opportunity and one game can’t define an international career, but the Millwall keeper did look like a deer in headlights on Tuesday morning. Sure, every keeper has bad games but you have to wonder what Jon McLaughlin has to do to get a chance at international level. We’ve mentioned multiple times on the podcast and in articles just how good a season the Hearts keeper has had. Disappointment at his exclusion was only compounded by Archer’s calamitous performance in between the sticks.
Then there were the three players that who came off the bench for Scotland. The most exciting of those from our perspective was Lewis Morgan. He immediately injected pace and urgency into Scotland’s attack. It’s very promising for Scotland to not only see him pulling on the jersey but showing he can hang at his level. If the winger continues to develop and grasp first-time opportunities at Celtic he could prove to be extremely useful for McLeish.
Chris Cadden and Graeme Shinnie also got a little bit of game time. And while neither performed poorly they didn’t really have enough time to get a foothold in the game.
One of the main positives Scotland can take from their trip to Lima is that they managed to stop a dangerous side from playing for the majority of the game. It was clear McLeish had drilled his team to play deep with two banks of four and it was evident that each player knew their role.
Prior to a moment of madness from Archer and a handball from McKenna, the inexperienced Scots looked largely untroubled by a dangerous Peru side. It does tell us that, as expected, we won’t be playing free-flowing, tiki-taka football under McLeish; not against teams like Peru anyway.
And knowing our limitations is important, we never defeated France twice under McLeish by passing rings around them. We rode our luck, stuck in and managed to find a winning goal. Furthermore, were the same game plan deployed with a stronger Scotland squad then there’s every chance we could’ve got a result in South America.
McLeish has changed it up in his three games since returning to the national team managerial hot seat. He started with a three-man defence against Hungary but has opted for a back four in the other two matches. So perhaps when he has a full pool of players to choose from his formation will depend on the opponent. However what does seem to be a constant is that the former Rangers manager prefers to play with a lone striker.
Matt Phillips was chosen as the man to lead the line in Lima and was largely ineffective. Of course, that’s not solely his fault given how little Scotland had the ball. Conversely, whereas he might offer a physical presence he’s not good enough to play alone up top for Scotland. Of course, Leigh Griffiths seems the obvious choice, when fit, to lead the line on his own but you have to wonder whether we’ll see McLeish try a front two. It’s a shame Griffiths isn’t available as playing him with Oli McBurnie or a Phillips would be interesting to see.
Not to sound all doom and gloom, but there aren’t many. Not that there are lots of negatives, but the match itself won’t be of much use to McLeish and his backroom staff heading into the Nations League and competitive qualifiers. He already knows the vast majority of these players won’t start. Furthermore, given the lack of experienced player at his disposal, it means he can’t get a true reflection of how he could potentially set up his team or where his squad is at ahead of significant fixtures.
Take our attack for example. Jamie Murphy was largely absent for that game. While that’s partly down to him performing poorly he also didn’t get much of a chance to do anything in attack. Similarly, Kenny McLean was played out of position so we have no clear idea of what he can really do at this level. It’d be easy to go on, but you get the idea. And that’s a problem for McLeish, following this game nobody could tell you anything about Scotland’s attacking prospects. Mainly because so many key players in that area were missing but also because we were barely a threat in the game.
John McGinn and Scott McTominay worked hard and played fine, but hardly had memorable nights. Scott McKenna perhaps wasn’t as impressive as he has been but it could be argued that were he playing alongside Christophe Berra rather than Charlie Mulgrew he’d look much more comfortable.
The only positives? More uncapped players now have experience. We know that O’Donnell could be a decent backup option for his country. Similarly, Morgan looked lively and entirely unfazed by the situation. The other main positive is that McLeish was clearly able to drill an inexperienced squad into playing the style he wanted. Sure it proved unfruitful in the end, but the players kept their shape well and made it difficult for a team full of talented players.