Steve Clarke might be reluctant to tempt fate and put down on paper a 23-man squad this far out from next summer’s Euro 2020 finals.
Injuries, form dips and form surges are sure to alter his plans over the coming months.
But that doesn’t stop the rest of us from having a go.
On the basis of a pool being picked for a tournament starting next week, with everybody fit and well, here is my selection.
David Marshall, Craig Gordon and Robby McCrorie.
Little in the way of explanation is need for the first two and I would be shocked if the vastly experienced duo aren’t Clarke’s match-day picks as starter and sub – in that order.
It’s been a long time since Marshall let his country down and he is the rock-solid presence the Scots will need in three high pressure group games. A greater command of his box and slightly more dependable decision-making gives Marshall the edge.
For the last spot, Clarke should choose the most promising young goalie we have.
If a third keeper has ever been needed for a country that will only be playing five matches at the absolute most (wildly optimistic, I know) in tournament football, I can’t think of one.
If there is one choice which should be about prioritising the future over the present, this is it.
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR…
There is only Jon McLaughlin really.
The fact he was picked for the last triple-header tells you Clarke views him as the next best keeper behind Marshall and Gordon. But he’s not even getting a game for Rangers, though, and is there such a big gap between his performance level and McCrorie’s? Not for me.
Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Declan Gallagher, Scott McKenna, Liam Cooper, Liam Palmer, Scott McTominay and Stephen O’Donnell.
There was nothing easy about this. Who would have thought defence (and central defence, in particular) would become an area of strength in depth all of a sudden?
By going with the eight above, I’ve got five players who can play in the middle three and two options on either flank. Kieran Tierney’s versatility really helps Clarke out here and if he was being especially bold (bolder than me) he would leave out Palmer or O’Donnell and rely on one of the players further up the pitch to cover as right wing-back.
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Tears will be shed in Aberdeen at Andy Considine missing out and giving the fairytale story a happy ending could be persuasive if you were being sentimental.
That’s not Clarke, though. Nor should it be. McKenna and Cooper are better defenders, it’s as simple as that.
John Souttar won’t have given up hope of making it but even if he can return to fitness, playing Championship football counts against him.
John McGinn, Ryan Jack, Callum McGregor, Kenny McLean, Stuart Armstrong and Billy Gilmour.
There’s nothing controversial about the first five.
McGinn, Jack and McGregor were heroic in Belgrade and all have the total trust of their manager. roles. McLean has quietly improved as an understudy for that trio and Armstrong is one of those moveable options managers love when it comes to tournament time.
Clarke doesn’t lack options for the last place but I’ve gone with star-in-the-making, Gilmour.
Had the under-21s qualified for their finals, there would have been a strong argument to keep him with Scot Gemmill but that’s not a dilemma after a grim performance in Greece earlier this week ended their qualifying campaign with a whimper.
Gilmour has already shown he can thrive in the company of world-class players like Liverpool’s Fabinho and, now back from injury, will get more Premier League game-time over the coming months.
He’s a Scotland Hall of Famer in the waiting and, even though he is still developing, would be a ready-made option for Clarke as a substitute 6 or 8.
Frank Lampard hasn’t been scared to put Gilmour on when the pressure is high, so why should Clarke. Even if he doesn’t see action, the benefit to Scotland in the long-term of exposing a top-end talent to championship environment is worth it.
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There will be plenty of disappointed players in this category, John Fleck the main one.
If he gets back to his best with Sheffield United, it might over-ride a couple of average performances for Scotland and Ryan Gauld could offer something different if he builds on his excellent start to the season in Portugal’s top flight.
Of the young midfielders playing in our Premiership, Aberdeen’s Lewis Ferguson (and maybe even team-mate Ross McCrorie) will be most closely watched by Clarke no doubt.
Lyndon Dykes, Oli McBurnie, Ryan Fraser, James Forrest, Leigh Griffiths and Ryan Christie.
Let’s face facts, it’s usually the strikers who get left out who make the headlines, Ally McCoist being told by Craig Brown that France ’98 was a tournament too far the prime example.
Christie’s performance in Belgrade and the position in which he was deployed (dad Charlie thinks it’s his best) has changed things and if you’re an out-and-out forward hoping to make the cut, not for the better.
Along with Fraser, he will be fighting it out to play just off Dykes. You can make a strong case for both of them and it’s a wonderful either/or for Clarke to contemplate before June.
Mind you, given the Newcastle man’s injury record, he won’t be taking Fraser’s availability for granted.
Forrest will come back in. You could envisage him ‘doing a Ryan Fraser’ and being moved in-field, potentially, and he’s also the right wing-back option I mentioned above.
Chasing a game when legs are tiring, that’s an obvious substitution to make.
Are there better natural number nines than McBurnie who won’t make the squad? Definitely.
But are there better options to perform the Dykes role? I can’t see one.
That’s why he gets picked even if he’s still on a grand total of zero goals scored by June.
You do need one of those natural number nines to bring off the bench, however.
Sadly for Dundee United’s Lawrence Shankland, Griffiths is the best we have for that job. Apart from the Celtic man being injured, Shankland’s best hope is another space opening up with Christie being selected as a midfielder who can also play as a 10.
Even then, I still fear that Clarke would perhaps choose to complete his 23 with another pace and power forward like Oli Burke, or even Callum Paterson, over a second penalty box predator.
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Most of them have been mentioned.
Kevin Nisbet could be the intriguing wildcard, though. If he is still near the top of the Premiership goal-scoring charts after the turn of the year, you would imagine Clarke will have to call him up in March to check him out close-up as he did with Shankland.