5 major talking points ahead of Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Israel

Euro 2020 Preview Package
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Scotland take on Israel in their 2022 World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park on Saturday.

Steve Clarke’s side are seven points behind runaway group leaders Denmark, one ahead of Willi Ruttensteiner’s side and four ahead of Austria as they look to take a huge step towards clinching second place and a play-off spot.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points ahead of the crucial encounter.

Tartan Army at full strength

A view inside Hampden Park

Hampden Park hosted some Euro 2020 games this summer but the stadium will be full this time (Jane Barlow/PA)

After the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions there will be a full house at Hampden Park.

Scotland played Euro 2020 finals games against Czech Republic and Croatia at the national stadium in front of around 10,000 fans in each occasion but the players and management are relishing the prospect of a 50,000 attendance for another key game this weekend.

A Scotland win followed by three expected points in the Faroe Islands next week would put them in a strong position for a play-off spot. Can the Tartan Army roar Clarke’s side on to what would be a crucial victory?

Grant Hanley’s replacement?

Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay in action

Will Clark consider bringing fit-again Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay back in to his defence? (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The loss of Grant Hanley to suspension is a blow to Scotland.

The Norwich centre-back has been one of Clarke’s top performers in recent times.

Leeds’ Liam Cooper or Scott McKenna of Nottingham Forest are natural replacements but will Clark consider bringing fit-again Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay back in to his defence as he has done on occasion?

Talking of which, what do you do with McTominay?

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The Red Devils star returns to the fold after missing the last camp through injury and it is unlikely that Clarke will not find a starting spot for him.

McTominay could be deployed as a centre-back in a back three or return to the three-man midfield but then what would Clarke do to make that work with Billy Gilmour, John McGinn and Callum McGregor, who all have strong starting claims? Clarke could be encouraged to use McGinn as the support player to a lone striker.

Permutations abound but the Scotland head coach insists he is 100 per cent clear already about his selection.

Can Austin MacPhee come up with something to make the difference?

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This will be the fifth meeting in a year between the teams – and the seventh in three years – and results show that both sides are evenly matched.

Scotland have beaten Israel only once in 90 minutes in the last seven matches, while Israel have only won twice in nine meetings in total.

Clarke has brought in Aston Villa’s set-piece specialist coach Austin MacPhee – he missed the last camp through coronavirus issues – with the hope that he can come up with something special to make the difference at free-kicks and corners. It might take only one piece of creativity but with such familiarity, it could be crucial.

Youth or experience at right wing-back?

Nathan Patterson celebrates a Scotland goal

Nathan Patterson broke onto the international scene in the summer (Andrew Milligan/PA)

One of the several decisions Clarke will make this Saturday is whether to play Stephen O’Donnell or Nathan Patterson in the right wing-back position.

Motherwell captain O’Donnell, 29, was late to the international scene but has been steady under Clarke and the Scotland boss is loyal to his players.

New kid on the block Patterson, who turns 20 next week, is not even a regular at Rangers but broke onto the international scene in the summer and reported interest from Everton and Manchester United confirms how highly-rated the galloping youngster is at the moment.

Over to you Steve.

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