Scotland play their European Championship opener against the Czech Republic in just two days’ time.
There have been 22 summers without major tournament football since the Scots were at the France 1998 World Cup, however, on Monday, they step out of the international wilderness at Hampden.
Which 11 heroes in dark blue will take to the field for the Group D opener (2pm kick-off)?
Having watched all of Steve Clarke’s games in charge of the national team since he took over in May 2019, our writers are well-placed to predict the gaffer’s starting line-up.
It’s true certain players are nailed on to be in the Scotland side to take on the Czechs, as you’ll see, but what will the shape be and which positions within it are up for debate?
One up with Christie as the link man…
What do we know about Steve Clarke’s Scotland blueprint? Firstly, the shape for the Czech Republic game will almost certainly be a variation on the 3-5-2.
Despite Craig Gordon’s still-potent shot-topping abilities, David Marshall’s penalty save in Serbia got the nation back on the major tournament stage – and Clarke will stand by him.
Also guaranteed to run out at Hampden, bar any eleventh-hour injury or, heaven forbid, Covid-related issue, are left centre-back Kieran Tierney and left-back Andy Robertson. They’ll be joined by right-back Stephen O’Donnell.
The first two not being in the side is unthinkable, while young right-back Nathan Patterson, although undoubtedly talented, would be a risk in such an historic game.
Who plays right centre-back and central centre-back is less cut and dry, but my money would be on the ball-playing Jack Hendry and unit Grant Hanley.
I’m also pretty confident, in the midfield three, Manchester United star Scott McTominay will be joined by Aston Villa’s John McGinn and Celtic’s Callum McGregor.
McGregor hasn’t caught the eye in dark blue, but the other central midfielders in the squad – John Fleck (positive Covid test last week), Billy Gilmour and David Turnbull (both just breaking on to the Scotland scene) – will likely have to wait for their Euros chance.
There’s no question Lyndon Dykes starts upfront for me. Although he isn’t the world’s most-composed finisher, his effort, physicality, hold-up and link play cannot be questioned.
I reckon, rather than pairing him with another striker in Southampton’s Che Adams, like he did in the friendly win against Luxembourg, Clarke will task Celtic’s Ryan Christie with supporting QPR frontman Dykes.
Scotland must go two up top in a bid to batter the Czech Republic …
The Czech Republic game is the most important game for Scotland in the group. It is the most winnable and a victory would give us a great chance of progressing, at least as one of the best third-placed teams.
The majority of the Scotland team picks itself, but there are a few selection headaches for Clarke.
Will he go for David Marshall or Craig Gordon in goals? I expect him to show loyalty to Marshall, despite his lack of game time at Derby towards the end of the season.
Stephen O’Donnell should get the nod at right wing-back, while I’d go for Aberdeen-bound Declan Gallagher ahead of Liam Cooper and Scott McKenna in the heart of the defence.
There will be plenty of Tartan Army members who want to see Billy Gilmour in from the start, but I’d opt for the experience of Callum McGregor for the opening match against the Czechs.
Clarke is a pragmatist and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he goes for a one-man attack, but I hope he is positive with his selection and goes with Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams from the start.
Ryan Fraser, James Forrest and Ryan Christie are perfect players to introduce in the second half if we need to change formation and push for a goal.
I’m predicting Scotland boss Steve Clarke goes for it with a two-pronged attack of Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams against the Czech Republic.
They linked up well together against Luxembourg, carry a threat and also defend from the front.
The left of the team picks itself, with the only conundrums on the right.
Aberdeen’s Declan Gallagher gets my nod for right-sided centre-half in a back three as he showed in the play-off final defeat of Serbia he has a big game mentality.
There will be calls for teenager Nathan Patterson to go in as right wing-back, but, like has been said above, he is too raw and inexperienced.
Stephen O’Donnell should get the nod.
The one thing which looks certain is that Scotland are going with three at the back for this tournament.
There is no debate Kieran Tierney and captain Andy Robertson are two of our best players and this seems the logical and best way to get both players in the starting line-up.
David Marshall has earned the chance to start in goal after playing such a pivotal role in helping the country qualify and I expect the team which starts against the Czech Republic to be the same one which beat Luxembourg in the final friendly.
That means a back three of Tierney, Declan Gallagher and Grant Hanley with Robertson and Stephen O’Donnell as wing-backs.
The central midfield trio will be Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay and John McGinn, although all three should be looking over their shoulders as young Billy Gilmour is not just knocking on the door, he is banging loudly for all to hear.
I’ve opted for the two strikers we saw on Sunday in Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams, although this is the toughest choice for me. Dykes is a handful – if a little wasteful in front of goal – while Adams has shown what he can do after scoring two goals in his first four appearances for Scotland.
One may miss out should Clarke opt for a link-up player such as Ryan Christie or Ryan Fraser, but given McGinn will have license to push forward, I think we can go with two up top.
We’ve waited so long to get here, why not be bold and see what happens?
Steve Clarke does not give off the air of a man who likes to spring surprises. For Scotland’s first tournament game in 23 years, I cannot see him deviating from the norm – especially when the Czech Republic game looks to be so crucial.
David Marshall should start in goal, while Kieran Tierney and Grant Hanley will be two of the back three. I think Jack Hendry’s ability on the ball should see him get the nod on the right of the defence, with Declan Gallagher arguably more necessary against England where Scotland will be asked to defend more often.
Scott McTominay’s recent performances make him a must-start in midfield and, while Billy Gilmour drew many plaudits for his display against Luxembourg, Callum McGregor has played in 20 of Clarke’s 21 games. I can’t see him dropping him now.
John McGinn will operate in front of those two, while I feel Ché Adams and his developing partnership with Lyndon Dykes will see the duo start on front.
It is harsh on Ryan Christie, who has been a key contributor for Clarke, but the necessity of starting the tournament on the front foot should be borne out by starting two out-and-out strikers.
Of the three Group D fixtures Scotland have, this in my opinion is the most winnable and victory against the Czech Republic would give the national side a great chance of progression from the section.
As a result, I think going for it with twin strikers Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams and John McGinn in a supporting role is the route Steve Clarke should take.
Andy Robertson and Stephen O’Donnell are the first choice wing-backs and Kieran Tierney is a shoo-in as part of the back three.
I’m not particularly inspired by either Grant Hanley or Jack Hendry, while Declan Gallagher has impressed in international football. I’d have him on the right of the back three with the pace and physicality of Scott McKenna in the centre.
With this side we still have the likes of Ryan Fraser, Ryan Christie and James Forrest in reserve as game-changing subs who could come on and make an impact.
Let me just get it out there at the beginning: in my view, neither Billy Gilmour nor Nathan Patterson have earned a Scotland start v the Czech Republic.
I cannot see Steve Clarke allowing his head to be turned by Gilmour’s 30-minute cameo against Luxembourg. And nor should he.
The Chelsea youngster does look a genuine talent, but the hype so far outweighs any contribution he has made on a football pitch.
Both club and country building his reputation higher without giving him proper game-time won’t help — but for me the onus is on Chelsea to do that properly, not Scotland at a major tournament.
His time will surely come but, for now, I say let’s calm down a bit. Let him earn his spot organically. It might happen in the next couple of weeks, it might not. And that’s OK.
The same goes for Patterson. His inclusion, even just in the squad, struck me as controversial given he didn’t even play enough games to get a league winners’ medal at Rangers this term.
Again, he will probably end up a Scotland regular — but let’s not kid ourselves that he’s earned the starting spot at a major tournament.
Elsewhere, I expect Clarke to stick with David Marshall in goal, although I wouldn’t complain were he to opt for Craig Gordon.
I’d like to see Aberdeen’s Declan Gallagher get the nod in defence, but suspect it’ll be a back three of Jack Hendry (the ball-player), Grant Hanley (the defensive unit) and Kieran Tierney (the all-in-one) with Andy Robertson and Stephen O’Donnell in the wing-back roles.
Barring injuries, I expect to see Scott McTominay, Callum McGregor and star man John McGinn in midfield with a front two of Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams.
With potential game-changers like David Turnbull, Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest, Ryan Christie, Ryan Fraser and — yes — Gilmour and Patterson waiting in reserve, Clarke has plenty of options should he wish to change it up in this game or in future ones. But that’s who I think will start against the Czechs.
Making bold decisions…
It would be a flip of the coin between David Marshall and Craig Gordon to start for Scotland against the Czech Republic, but the man whose save took us to these finals I feel has done nothing wrong to deserve to begin on the bench.
My back three from left is Grant Hanley, who looks steadier by the game, Aberdeen capture Declan Gallagher, who oozes confidence at this early stage of his international career, and Arsenal star Kieran Tierney.
Despite the push for Nathan Patterson from Rangers to get the nod, Steve Clarke knows Stephen O’Donnell’s qualities at right wing-back, so I expect him to play, with captain Andy Robertson on the left side.
In central midfield, my view is we have to be bold, so I’d go with Chelsea starlet Billy Gilmour, who was a stand-out on Sunday against Luxembourg, Ryan Christie and John McGinn.
I’d make former Caley Thistle star Christie a direct replacement for Scott McTominay. I worry about the Manchester United midfielder’s fiery temperament and we need class and coolness – Christie offers both.
Meanwhile, McGinn is our main man in my book. He pulls the strings and knows defensive duties matter as much as attacking intent.
Upfront, there’s no Dykes for me. I’m going for Che Adams – Two goals from four Scotland games show he’s settled in straight away – and Kevin Nisbet. The Hibs frontman took his chance superbly coming off the bench against the Netherlands last week.