Stage set for Scotland’s understudies to shine
Strachan no fear as regulars must be replaced for vital game
Scotland will be forced to change their successful formula for their two remaining World Cup qualifiers but manager Gordon Strachan is confident his players waiting in reserve can do just as good a job.
Strachan named the same team for last month’s victorious double-header, which brought a 3-0 triumph away to Lithuania and a 2-0 win against Malta at Hampden Park.
Changes will be made for this week’s must-win fixtures against Slovakia and Slovenia, following the withdrawal of skipper Scott Brown through a hamstring injury, and fellow Celtic midfielder Stuart Armstrong with a calf injury.
Strachan feels he has the strength in depth to cope with the loss of Brown and Armstrong and he does not believe there is enough disparity in quality in his pool for their absence to be too keenly felt.
Strachan said: “Everyone in here, if we spoke to the players after the games we’ve played recently and asked Ryan Fraser, Barry Bannan and another couple of players if they felt they would have made the team better, they would have said yes.
“They are not saying they are better than anyone but they can do what they are asked.
“That’s fine. I don’t think there is an inferiority complex with any of them, because I don’t think we have players that far ahead.
“It is different if I’m asking a player if he wants to step in for Messi. He might say ‘no, I don’t want to step in for Messi’.
‘Aguero? ‘No, I don’t want to do that, either. I’d rather just sit on the bench and watch this’. We are not there.”
Among the options Strachan could turn to in midfield are Stoke City’s Darren Fletcher, who will captain the side in Brown’s absence if selected, and Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan. Hibernian’s John McGinn and Celic’s Callum McGregor could also be drafted in, having each scored twice in Saturday’s 2-2 draw between the sides at Parkhead.
Strachan wants any reinforcements to make their own mark on the side and said: “We’ve got to say that, if we can handle things better in one area of the team than others, it’s in midfield.
“It’s not fair to say to players that I want them to play like someone else. We have to have a system where the players feel confident enough in themselves, knowing that it’s all about the way they play rather than trying to fill in for someone who couldn’t be there. I don’t want them trying to imitate someone.”
Strachan feels all four midfielders have a strong case for inclusion but hinted the patience and determination of squad regulars Fletcher and Bannan could be an important factor, adding: “It is easy for Darren at his age to say, ‘I didn’t get a game the last couple’. But he turns up again. There are loads of guys who could do that.
“Barry could do that sometimes, but he turns up all the time, he has not played regularly but he is always there. We appreciate that. That’s always rewarded – that kind of loyalty.
“His performances have
“It’s not fair to say to players that I want them to play like someone else”
been as good as anybody’s, he’s probably the best midfielder in the Championship – he got voted into the Championship team of the year last year and I feel he is actually playing better this year.
“I’ve not got a problem with John McGinn, he has been terrific for a while.
“Just because Callum hasn’t been in the initial squad, that doesn’t mean he can’t be involved.
“He has been in and out of the Celtic team – but when he gets in he scores.
“He never lets you down, but at times he does not play – he comes on.
“It’s not as if he’s never been out of the Celtic team, that’s for sure.”
EVERYTHING’S UNDER CONTROL: Darren Fletcher shows off his ball skills during the Scotland squad’s training session at Hampden
ALL SMILES: Liam Cooper relaxes above after, below right, earlier taking part in the Scotland squad’s training session at Hampden
Andy Robertson on the ball at Hampden