Are Scotland the biggest threat to England in their World Cup qualifiers?
A lucky coin, a lucky goal, and England move on. Allardyce spent his post-match conference hailing the exploits of a lucky penny in his pocket, gleeful in victory and somewhat vindicated in selection choices. Problems remain, quite obviously, but if qualification had bearing on England’s title hopes they would have swept the field in France this summer. As is, Lallana gives Allardyce breathing room and all three points from one of Group F’s more uncomfortable fixtures.
Meanwhile, as pundits hailed England’s victory in Trnava between bouts of Rooney-induced fury, Scotland wrapped up a 5-1 victory away to Malta. Gordon Strachan’s side were by no means flawless, like their southern neighbors they benefitted from some late-match luck with Maltese center-back Jonathan Caruana given his marching orders after an hour for a challenge that completely missed the legs of Chris Martin. Snodgrass swept in the preceding penalty and a late flurry of goals put gloss on the scoreline.
Regardless, Scotland were excellent throughout. Their passing was incisive and urgent, with Hull duo Robert Snodgrass and Andrew Robertson looking the part of genuine Premier League star turns. Matt Ritchie took to his free-role brilliantly, drifting about the left half of the pitch with cunning. Fellow Championship star Barry Bannan provided an equally impressive range of passing to complement the Newcastle winger, albeit from his deep midfield role alongside the combative Darren Fletcher.
England can breathe after Lallana’s last gasp winner, however they cannot relax. Slovakia was made out to be the Three Lion’s most powerful qualification opponent, yet Scotland’s side provide a more nuanced and multi-dimensional menace. While Slovakia’s back-line is lumbering and one-paced, Scotland offers a vibrant counter-attacking threat. Young full-backs Callum Paterson and Andrew Robertson posses the requisite speed to threaten England’s rusty 4-3-3. Lallana and Sterling weren’t forced to track-back and mark Hubocan and Pekarik in Trnava, something they will be required to do in November at Wembly if England are to shackle Scotland’s attacking threat.
In midfield, Bannan and Fletcher have a few more gears than the Slovak tandem of Pecovsky and Gregus. Bannan’s trickery will be especially helpful in breaking out of England’s high press, something the ageing Pecovsky couldn’t supply. The explosive Robert Mak is Slovakia’s most potent weapon after Hamsik. However, Scotland offer a wing threat of their own in the teenage Oliver Burke.
Burke, the Highland Bale, is built like a tank. His pace and physicality convinced RB Leipzig to shell out thirteen million pounds, and wherever he is deployed, England must be wary. Not at his best against Malta in a central position, Burke will likely retain that role to ensure the freedom of Ritchie and Snodgrass. England may feel this move shackles Scotland’s best attacking threat, with Dier a willing man-marker of central playmakers.
However, if Strachan can get his attacking midfield three to interchange positions, the silky Snodgrass a incisive force in the center of the park along with the right-wing, they could pose England some huge problems. Ritchie and Snodgrass lack for pace, but their passing ability from wide is phenomenal. A more dynamic performance from Burke could have the Tartan Army purring for a full ninety minutes.
While center-forward and center-back remain problem positions for Scotland, Strachan’s side has more than enough quality to jockey England for Group F dominance. The two sides meet this November at Wembley. Allardyce better find a few more lucky coins.
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