Almost exactly a year ago Scotland lost at home to Russia (6/9/19) and away to Belgium (9/9/19) in Euro 2020 group stage qualifiers.
A hard sell if you were to travel back in time to then and try to convince Steve Clarke about the future but Euro 2020 has been postponed, many of the great goals you thought Matt Le Tissier scored simply did not happen – a beautiful strike instantly deleted, wiped out forever every time he tweets something idiotic – and our opponents tonight, the Czech Republic, have had to call up an entirely new squad and coaching staff with about a day’s notice.
This a genuine second string, comprised of youths that didn’t make the leap from u21 international appearances to the senior set up, experienced pros in their late 20s to early 30s that never became regulars for the Czech Republic and also Roman Hubnik; memorable for being the match winner against Craig Levein’s infamous 4-6-0.
Let’s assume, even with this new group of players and staff, that the dangers and style are broadly the same – what are they? In last autumn’s Euro 2020 qualifying group matches and in last Friday’s Nations League derby victory against Slovakia the Czechs used a 4-3-3 formation and like to attack quite quickly and directly with low short to medium distance passes while pushing their fullbacks very high and wide when in possession.
- They are very dangerous from set pieces, especially corners. Some of the aerial threat (Tomáš Souček, Alex Král, Ondřej Čelůstka, Jakub Brabec) and good delivery (Jakub Jankto’s left foot, Vladimír Darida’s right foot) may be missing but their clear plans to score in this way, and desire to do so, may remain. The Czech Republic often cluster a bunch of players at the edge of the penalty box, then look to get men free to overload the front post and either win it there or on the edge of six yard box from the second or dropping ball. Obviously Scotland should try to avoid giving away cheap set pieces and consider selecting players who are talented at dealing with them. Although, given the Czech Republic’s reliance on them as a scoring method it is possible this becomes a weakness in the absence of the players required to actually execute. If their quick passing and moving doesn’t immediately pay off then they can run out of ideas if faced with a compact well structured defence in the final third and it seems likely that is even more the case with the replacement players.
- When the Czechs have possession at the back one of their midfielders, usually Souček or Král, will often drop into full back area to make a three at the back but they are at their most dangerous when that doesn’t happen and the centre back with the ball bypasses the central midfielders. The right sided centre back, usually Čelůstka, will look for the right winger or the centre forward dropping into the right half space between the opposition lines. Their right back will go high and wide as a passing option and to facilitate the attacker’s movement. While this may not happen with new personnel they did it so often in matches that I watched that it is still something to be mindful of. This could be a difficult situation to manage in terms of when our central defender should follow their opponent and who should be tracking which runs. I fear that this could be especially difficult in a back three that are relatively unfamiliar with each other. This is one of the reasons I’d be inclined to avoid that set up for this match but regardless of our formation we should try to force the Czech Republic into the three at the back build up and then encourage them to pass to the left and trap the left back.
- The Czech Republic tend to try and win turnovers by pressing aggressively with three or four players immediately around the ball. They are especially likely to do so on the flanks if an opposition player receives the ball facing their own goal. The Czechs have a tendency to bunch around the ball carrier in these situations and, if Scotland can resist the press and play a one-two or create a switch of play to the far side we could expose them.
So, here’s my team. Lots of rotation. Kieran Tierney gets a shot at left back, John Fleck and Kenny McLean in to help track movement in midfield, Oli Burke to try and exploit advanced fullbacks. Let’s hope we enjoy the match and win convincingly. Post-mortem to take place on this week’s podcast out Wednesday morning.