Scotland v England: Jonathan Wilson’s tactical preview


Jamie Vardy has pulled out of the England squad after suffering a thigh injury in training, but with Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Jermian Defoe all fit, Gareth Southgate has not called up a replacement. Daniel Sturridge wasn’t selected and neither was Wayne Rooney, the probable end of his England career having somehow rather crept up on the world despite the persistent doubts about him over the past couple of seasons. 

Jordan Henderson and Danny Rose are the other two major absentees, both ruled out with long-term injuries. For Scotland Kieran Tierney has been included in the squad despite breaking his jaw and losing two teeth in the Scottish Cup final and is expected to play wearing a mouth-guard.



There have been positive signs for England under Southgate. They sit four points clear at the top of the qualifying group having played two of their three hardest away games and although they conceded late goals to draw a friendly against Spain and lose in Germany, the performances in both were quietly encouraging. Scotland are six points back and more significantly, two points behind Slovakia in second place. Their failure to qualify for the Euros and their disappointing start to this campaign has heaped the pressure on Gordon Strachan. That wasn’t helped by a 1-1 draw in a friendly at home to Canada in March but they did a least then beat Slovenia 1-0 to keep hopes of qualification alive.



There is no older fixture in international football than England against Scotland. It was first played in 1872, a 0-0 draw in Partick. In total, the sides have met 113 times, with England winning 48 and Scotland 41. More recently, the balance is very much in England’s favour with seven wins in the last eight meetings, while the one defeat in that run came in the second leg of a tie England ended up winning anyway. In November, England were extremely comfortable 3-0 winners at Wembley.



England will be mindful of the fact that all three of their goals against Scotland at Wembley were headers from crosses. The first two came from full-backs getting forwards – Kyle Walker seizing on a loose ball after a shot had been half cleared and crossing for Daniel Sturridge before Danny Rose set up Adam Lallana on the overlap – and the third from a Wayne Rooney corner headed in by Gary Cahill. 

The three goals Scotland leaked against Slovakia were similar - two came from the left-back Jakub Holubek getting forward on the overlap, finding space and crossing, the other from a corner. Perhaps there is an issue dealing aerially with balls into the box, but the bigger issue seems to be preventing the crosses in the first place. Again and again Scotland’s full-backs have been left exposed.



Against Lithuania in March, Southgate reacted to the absence of Jordan Henderson by playing Lallana centrally to the right of Dele Alli with Eric Dier anchoring behind. He could do that again, which would probably mean Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain operating on one flank with Raheem Sterling on the other (This, of course, is assuming, given Scotland’s vulnerability on the flanks, that he will stick with a 4-2-3-1 rather than deploying the 3-4-2-1 he tried with a degree of success against Germany). The other option would be to play Lallana on one flank and bring Jake Livermore, who impressed in Dortmund, alongside Dier in the centre.



Strachan has spoken this week about how in the old days Scotland would have looked physically to intimidate England, pointing out that modern refereeing makes that impossible. The general tone, though, was of a manager who knows his side is likely to have far less of the ball, who is expecting to have to sit deep and defend. That probably means Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown anchoring the midfield, looking for the three more attacking midfielders – probably Robert Snodgrass, James Morrison and James Forrest – to link to Leigh Griffiths. If Morrison plays centrally, he can drop back to help strengthen that midfield base.



The win over Slovenia restored some hope for Scotland but even if they do restrict England here it’s hard to hold out much hope for them. Quite apart from anything else, Harry Kane is in superlative form with eight goals in his last three games: England shouldn’t have to create hatfuls of chances to win. England are 1.71 to win, but it’s probably worth inflating that by backing them -1 at 2.38.