by John Reid
A bit of a different round-up this week, as with no club football we focus on Scotland, and the aftermath of the goalless draw with Serbia.
For Scotland, it was the case of few chances created, and the ones being created spurned, with Steven Naismith and Kenny Miller the main culprits. Naismith was also fortunate that the referee missed an elbow he swung at Srdan Mijailovic. On the defensive side, Scotland performed well, with Gary Caldwell having a good game in the role of midfield ‘destroyer’. Left-back Paul Dixon also turned in a terrific performance on his Scotland debut. It should be pointed out that Allan McGregor had to pull off a couple of decent saves too. But in the debate that has went on since the game ended, the main talking point has been how cautious Craig Levein plays his football, with particular criticism based on his substitutes.
It seemed obvious to many that Kenny Miller – playing up front in a 4-1-4-1 system – was struggling from around the hour mark onwards. But Levein displayed his cautious side as usual and didn’t bring Jordan Rhodes on until the last ten minutes, and even then he stuck with his 4-1-4-1 tactics. To be fair to Levein, he did bring on James Forrest with 20 minutes to go, and the moved almost worked as Forrest came close in injury time. But overall the mood after the game was one of frustration, as Scotland seem to be stuck in a conundrum at the moment.
The conundrum revolves around Levein’s tactics, and his refusal to play more ‘attacking’ football. The biggest problem that Levein has faced – and the thing that you would think ultimately he his reign of Scotland manager will be remembered for – was decision to play a 4-6-0 system against Czech Rep. in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. The decision backfired as Scotland didn’t create a single chance and lost 1-0. Since then Levein has been on the defensive and the performance on Saturday won’t help. As Tuesday’s game against Macedonia has now turned into a must-win game, it will be interesting to see if Levein makes changes. It seems certain that Jordan Rhodes will start, as Kenny Miller – who has been a terrific player for Scotland – seems to be struggling. In midfield Steven Naismith and Charlie Miller didn’t perform well on Saturday, the likes of James Forrest and Jamie Mackie, or even Don Cowie could feature. Shaun Maloney – who didn’t even get off the bench on Saturday – will be a good bet to feature also.
It seems unlikely that Levein will change his system though, he will probably go for a 4-1-4-1 again, or perhaps a 4-5-1.
Of course, in Scotland the debate has raged most about the ‘dispute’ between £14 million man Stephen Fletcher and Levein, which has resulted in a stalemate between the two, with neither side backing down. It is difficult to remember how the dispute started, but it has led to Fletcher refusing to play for Levein and Levein refusing to pick Fletcher. It should also be pointed out that Levein has not picked Kris Commons for the squad, despite his decent start to this season.
For Levein this game is make or break. If Scotland fail to get three points already the road to Rio will seem a long way away, and Levein will be under huge pressure. It will be interesting to see if he goes for it – just this once.
Next week the round-up will be back to normal as the SPL returns.