Competing in their first major international tournament since 1998, Scotland come to EURO 2020 determined to prove the doubters wrong.
Steve Clarke’s men are listed as the fourth seed in a Group D that features World Cup finalists Croatia, exciting end-to-end outfit in Czech Republic and their oldest enemy England but they won’t be daunted by that prospect.
Under former the Kilmarnock, Reading and West Bromwich Albion manager, Scotland have operated under the mantra of “be hard to beat and don’t concede” which means EURO 2020 Fantasy managers could do worse than consider their defensive options.
Nobody sums up the a team’s commitment to be greater than the sum of its parts than the hard work and graft of Liverpool’s very capable Andrew Robertson (€5.5m), whose Fantasy Premier League form has made him the most fashionable Scot this summer (16% ownership).
In partnership with UEFA, we continue our series of EURO 2020 articles by examining Scotland in detail to see if any of their other players can compete for a place in your Fantasy squads.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
SCOTLAND’S EURO 2020 QUALIFICATION RECORD
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
* not including play-offs
Any team that requires the play-offs to reach the finals of a 24-team UEFA tournament is likely to have something of a checkered qualification record and life in Group I was certainly mixed for Scotland.
Things got off to the worst possible start when they lost 3-0 to Kazakhstan in the opening round of fixtures, a defeat that cost Alex McLeish his job.
A 2-0 win over San Marino followed before Clarke took over for the third qualifying match and oversaw a 2-1 victory against Cyprus.
His arrival did not trigger instant improvement though with three wins and four defeats coming in the remaining seven outings, leaving Scotland a distant third behind Russia and Belgium by the end of qualification proper.
Those subsequent three victories were against San Marino, Cyprus and Kazakhstan while their head-to-heads with Russia and Belgium producing zero points, one goal of their own and 13 conceded in four matches (3.3 per game).
Despite playing three centre-backs in a 3-4-2-1 system, defence was a particular concern during this stage of Scotland’s development. While they were short of goals against the bigger seeds in Group I, they at least found 15 goals across their meetings with Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino. At the other end of the pitch, Scotland kept just two clean sheets during conventional qualifying, both of them against minnows San Marino.
SCOTLAND’S MATCHES IN 2020 AND 2021
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals for||Goals against||Clean sheets|
* including play-offs (penalty shoot-outs are considered draws)
Things did improve in that department during the play-offs after a 0-0 semi-final draw with Israel, which was won on penalties, while it took Serbia until the 90th minute for Serbia’s Luka Jović to net during the final, another tie won by spot-kicks.
Scotland’s recent record has made for even better reading as Clarke got to work instilling his hard-to-beat approach into the players. The 2020/21 season saw them finish second in their Group B pool of the Nations League, after achieving promotion in the previous edition.
Scotland were just two points off topping the group, won by the Czech Republic, who they beat twice and, of course, face in Group D at EURO 2020 this summer. To give an idea of their progress under Clarke, those results formed part of a nine-match unbeaten run, their longest in 44 years, clinched by that play-off victory over Serbia.
Defensive stability was the bedrock of that achievement, those nine matches featuring a total of four clean sheets and five goals conceded (0.6 per game). While Scotland have recently offered decent strength in depth in midfield, where they still struggled was up-front, not netting more than once in five of the last six matches of that historic run.
Still, that hard-to-beat approach appears to be working for Clarke, considering they took five points from their first three World Cup qualifiers in March, drawing with Austria and Israel and beating the Faroe Islands to put them in Group F’s second-place spot behind only Denmark.
That campaign played host to Che Adams (€6.5m) first matches for Scotland, who impressed enough to suggest he can perhaps, as part of a new 3-5-2 system, end Clarke’s ongoing problems in attack.
And in the build-up to EURO 2020’s much-awaited kick-off, Scotland were minutes from recording a landmark friendly win over the Netherlands before a late Memphis Depay (€10.0m) free-kick.
Most importantly, Clarke’s men come into this tournament with a point to prove. For 23 years, Scotland has been a nation renowned for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. For over two decades, the cyclically increasing weight of history meant any bump in the road felt like another crisis but winning qualification has lifted that weight and help remind this group of players what they are capable of.
Some would argue the odds have been stacked against them off the field with the confirmation that, despite acting as one of EURO 2020’s array of host cities, Scotland have to play one of their three “home” matches at Wembley, against England. And to add some insult to that, Scotland’s late qualification for the tournament meant Group D rivals Croatia and the Czech Republic had already booked into Scotland’s best training facilities at St. Andrews and Oriam, Edinburgh, respectively.
But training in the north-east of England, and playing a “home” match in their rival’s capital is unlikely to bother Clarke and his man. Scotland have a history of making Wembley Stadium their own from a fan perspective, while their manager will feel at home in London having spent 10 years as a Chelsea defender, served on the staff there and West Ham, as well as winning the FA Cup and League Cup at Wembley.
“There might be a lot of hype at home. But I think being away from it, being detached, will benefit us in terms of preparation and making sure we are ready for the matches.” – Steve Clarke
- Most starts: Callum McGregor (12), David Marshall, John McGinn (both 9), Andrew Robertson (8), Stephen O’Donnell (7), James Forrest (6)
- Most goals: John McGinn (7), Ryan Christie (2)
- Most assists: John McGinn, Ryan Christie (both 2)
- Goals scored: 16
- Goals conceded: 19
- Clean sheets: 2
THE KEY TARGETS
Given Scotland’s luck down through the years, it does seem somewhat fitting that they come to their first international tournament in 23 years with their two best players playing the same position. Thankfully for them, Clarke has found some way to get both Robertson and Kieran Tierney (€5.0m) into the same team.
It is Robertson who retains the wider role of the two, operating as a left wing-back in Clarke’s 3-4-2-1 system over the last two years, appearing to retain it after a recent tweak to 3-5-2.
The 27-year-old has been one of Liverpool’s most reliable and consistent performers during the last three seasons, leading his club side to Champions League and Premier League titles, making him the perfect leader for his country.
Assists are where Robertson has built his reputation as a Fantasy Premier League asset, providing a total of 32 across the last three campaigns (10.7 per season) although he has proved a little less prolific in that department for Scotland; perhaps unsurprising consider the gap of quality in terms of supporting cast.
In eight qualification stars, Robertson did not supply a single assist and found the net just once, while he has assisted twice across Scotland’s last seven outings.
Interestingly enough, it is possibly the cheaper of the two left-backs who could provide EURO 2020 Fantasy managers with better value this summer. Coming in at €5.0m, Tierney can offer a saving of €0.5m against Robertson and has been in decent form of his own.
Despite featuring inside the back-three, the Arsenal man has produced three assists in his last six caps and, although each one of them came against the Faroe Islands, the Croatian and Czech Republic defences on offer in Group D this summer have left a lot to be desired of late.
Their shaky lines could convince differential hunters to look for options in the Scottish attack, which heavily relied on the powerful, creative lynch-pin of John McGinn (€7.5m) during qualification.
The diminutive midfielder operates in a slightly more advanced role than the box-to-box duties he has carried out for Aston Villa this season, helping him to a team-high tally of seven goals en route to booking a place at EURO 2020. To give some context on his importance to Scotland’s attacking output, their second-highest scorer during qualifying was Ryan Christie (€7.0m) on two. McGinn was also joint-top with the Celtic midfielder for assists (two).
McGinn has become slightly less of a pivotal goal-scoring figure since qualification was secured, thanks to those around him improving. Still, he has produced three goals in his last six starts.
THE LONG SHOTS
While the sample size is small, it does look as if Scotland’s attack has become more capable since the strong and pacy Adams declared for his maternal grandparent’s nation.
Until the Southampton man arrived on the scene, the centre-forwards’ department was arguably the worst section of Clarke’s team. Although he adds a useful dimension as a target man, Lyndon Dykes (€6.5m) has been anything but prolific while Leigh Griffiths has been short of starts for Celtic, to the point that he, alongside Sheffield United pair Oli McBurnie and Oliver Burke, did not make the final 26-man squad.
By contrast, since the World Cup qualifiers, Adams has registered three starts from a possible five, contributing two goals and one assist. That could be enough to earn him a start when Scotland face the Czech Republic on Monday.
Winger James Forrest (€6.0m) is also back in the conversation after a lengthy ankle injury that kept him sidelined from September until February this season. The 29-year-old was sorely missed by Celtic in 2020/21 after winning Scottish Player of the Year in 2018/19, kicking on with a 10-goal, 17-assist campaign in 2019/20 as well as netting five times in the Nations League. Perhaps the only thing that counts against Forrest at this point is how injury-prone he is.
If Forrest can earn the starts, he is likely to provide better value than the similarly priced Scott McTominay (€6.0m). The Manchester United man was predominantly used as a member of the three-man defence during qualifying but since the play-off win over Serbia, he has stepped forward into a role more recognisable to those who watch Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
“(McTominay) has done really well and to become a first choice in that Manchester United team is not an easy thing with the competition they have at Old Trafford for places. He finished last autumn playing centre-back for Scotland but we need to use him in midfield too. So I have brought Jack Hendry in and he has all the same attributes; tall, uses the ball well. He is a good player with the attributes of a modern defender. I am surprised It didn’t work out for him at Celtic, initially, but he’s done very well on loan in Belgium.” – Steve Clarke
Finally, anyone who does want to back some Scotland clean sheets could look to David Marshall (€4.5m); a nailed-on budget starting goalkeeper behind a three-defence that has fluctuated in terms of personnel since McTominay’s move into midfield.
FanTeam Price Corner
FanTeam managers can find plenty of bargains among the Scotland squad ahead of EURO 2020 with no player more expensive than €5.0m.
Just four of Clarke’s men come in at the dearer end of the scale, predictably Robertson, Tierney and Adams while Dykes has been priced at €5.0m too.
Included among the €4.5m options are potentially exciting winger options such as Ryan Fraser, Stuart Armstrong and attacking midfielder Christie.