Ian Darke, Host: Good evening and welcome back to BT Sport. For those just joining us after the break I am Ian Darke and I am joined in the studio by John Hartson and Steve McManaman. Tonight is a special night as we have been discussing the finalized squad selection for the Euro 2020. Three weeks away, Macca, what do you think is going through the manager’s and player’s minds right now?
Steve McManaman, Liverpool God: As a player before a major tournament there is a little bit of butterflies, wondering if you’ll make the final roster. I remember before Euro 96 I was nervous if El Tel would name me to the final squad or not. As a manager you want to make sure you have everything right and strike the correct balance between squad and formation flexibility and player skill level. The best players don’t always make it if they don’t fit into the preferred formation.
Darke: Which fits nicely with the next squad we want to discuss: Scotland. Something of a surprise package, topping their qualification group only to be thrown into a Euro Group with England, Turkey, and the Czech Republic. John, you’ve played in Scotland and still have connections there: what do we make of this Scotland side? Some big name players didn’t even make the provisional squad—Matt Ritchie, Steven Naismith, Oli Burke, Matt Phillips.
John Hartson, Welsh Dragon: Aye, there’s some talent left in the stands. But I like what their American manager has done, changing the formation to make them tough to break down defensively. Scotland are kind of at a crossroads at Keeper—they're starting 37 year-old Craig Gordon between the sticks while waiting for 22 year-old Robby McCrorie to develop—and at other areas of the pitch. By playing the 5-2-1-2 it makes them compact defensively so their young defenders needn’t be exposed. I don’t see where the talent they’ve left off the roster would fit into this side and formation.
Macca: And I like how Hendricks has played to their attacking strengths with this formation. It has freed up Andy Robertson and Kieren Tierney—two of the best attacking fullbacks in the world—to go forward and create disruption amongst the opposition. You saw how dangerous they were in Scotland’s last two games: combined 4 goals, 1 assist, 14 tackles, 7 headers, and 2 Player of the Match awards. And that’s not even touching the other side, where wee Ryan Fraser is a man reborn playing as a wingback. It seems like every match he is integral in their buildup play and his set piece delivery is dangerous.
Darke: Some tough selections getting the final roster to 23. 7 players left off the list and here they are: Scott Bain, Liam Lindsay, Greg Taylor, Ryan Jack, James Forrest, Lewis Ferguson, and Lawrence Shankland. John, what do you make of these omissions?
Hartson: Ian, I think Hendricks is going for a young squad with a bit of stamina and energy. Remember, they have come from behind in three of their eight matches thus far—Belgium, Russia, and Germany—and that level of effort wears on a player. I think Hendricks knows what he wants to do and is building his team accordingly.
Darke: Let’s go through the cuts and see if they were justified. Bain?
Macca: Justified. He was abysmal against Russia, deputizing for an injured Gordon. McCrorie is the future of that position so I’m not sure why we are concerned about a third choice keeper.
Macca: Too slow and not agile enough.
Hartson: But plenty strong. I’d not have relished playing against him—I’d be black and blue when the day is through! But they have Hanley and Porteous to fill that strong defender roll so that goes back to your point, Macca, about flexibility with formation.
Darke: How about the Celtic duo of Greg Taylor and James Forrest?
Hartson: Taylor is unfortunate that he has two world class players at his position. I don’t think he was that bad, just a victim of player congestion. Forrest never got it done on the pitch internationally and while the claim could be made he is being played out of position Ryan Fraser is abusing that notion with every key pass he makes.
Darke: Ryan Jack, Lewis Ferguson?
Macca: Just not good enough. I don’t see Jack displacing the top pairing of Scott McTominay and John McGinn. He doesn’t play behind the strikers so when Scotland do play with an Attacking Mid it will be Christie or Armstrong, who can also play as part of a flat midfield three. McGregor can play almost anywhere on the pitch in a pinch, which means he was vying for the final spot with Ross McCrorie. I think Hendricks fancied McCrorie’s tackling skills more than Jack’s passing. As for Ferguson, well, sometimes you’re just happy to be invited to the training camp.
Darke: And lastly Lawrence Shankland?
Macca and Hartson: Wasn’t good enough at this level.
Darke: Beautiful harmony. Finally, what are your concerns about this Scotland team?
Macca: For me it’s gotta be goals from up top. I know they scored 32 in 8 matches, some against some really good squads. But only 10 of those came from a striker. Do you know who their top scorer was since Hendricks took over? It’s a tie between Oli McBurnie, John McGinn, and Callum Paterson. All sit on 4 goals apiece but only one is a striker while the other two are a midfielder and a wingback. It’s great to have so many goal scorers in the squad but in the pressure matches of a tournament you need a goal scorer and I don’t see Scotland having one on the front line.
Hartson: For me it is their youth and inexperience. The average age of the squad is 25. For the defenders it is 23. That is an awfully young squad to bring into a major tournament like this. Their highest capped player is Craig Gordon at 57; next is Andy Robertson at 36. It’s possible that they could do well because their inexperience doesn’t tell them any different but for me that is a concern.
Darke: Thank you both for your assessment. There you have it. We will take a short break and come back to discuss our final team in the group, England. Can they finally win another major tournament 54 years after their last victory?
Note: I know Ian Darke doesn't regularly host in studio chats but I like his commentary and wanted to write three people I like--Macca (oddly my favorite ever player), Hartson, and Darke. I have been writing tripe for the SFA and fan pieces so wanted to have an intelligent conversation for once.