After two consecutive wins, Scotland were looking make it three wins in a row for the first time in this UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. A result against Kazakhstan would also extend Steve Clarke’s most successful spell in his short tenure, as well as breeding confidence through his young squad, who are now in a position to send Scotland to their first major tournament in over 20 years, should they make it through the upcoming UEFA Nations League playoff matches. The reverse fixture in Kazakhstan was arguably one of the national team’s darkest days and marked the beginning of the end for former manager Alex McLeish, perhaps adding some extra pressure to a game that in the grand scheme of things, meant very little to the final placings in Group I.
In the end, Scotland ran out 3-1 winners, despite being 1-0 down at the break, showing good character in the second half to turn the match around. However, similar issues highlighted in previous games, which hampered Scotland going forward, will feature in this tactical analysis, as well as Scotland’s defensive tactics, which were effective in stifling a Kazakhstan side who lacked creativity. Further analysis will demonstrate how Scotland’s wing play was crucial to their success in this Group I fixture.
For the first time in his reign as Scotland manager, Steve Clarke named an unchanged side from the team who claimed the three points against Cyprus in their most recent Group I fixture. David Marshall continued in goal with a back four of Liam Palmer, Declan Gallagher, Scott McKenna and Greg Taylor playing in front of him. Ryan Jack and Callum McGregor made up the double pivot in the 4-2-3-1, while John McGinn operated ahead of them in the advanced midfielder role. Celtic duo James Forrest and Ryan Christie flanked lone striker Steven Naismith, who captained the game in the absence of Liverpool’s Andy Robertson.
Kazakhstan lined up in 5-4-1 formation with Nepogodov starting in goal with a back five consisting of Suyumbayev, Marochkin, Maly, Logvinenko and Shomko playing ahead of him. Zaynutdinov started on the right side of a midfield four, with Pertsukh and Abiken playing in central midfield and Islamkhan on the left. Shchetkin started in the lone striker role.
Lack of connection in midfield
In their previous fixture against Cyprus, Scotland struggled to play through the middle of the pitch. This was due to a variety of reasons, one of which was the positions of McGinn, who at times appeared to be playing as a second striker alongside Naismith. This caused a disconnection between the midfield and attacking units, an issue which was made more problematic by the positions of Jack and McGregor, who were often operating on the same line, in front of the opposition press.
This issue is seen in the image above, where Jack is in possession of in the middle of the pitch. McGregor can be seen on the other side of the centre circle, operating on the same line as Jack, making it difficult for the Rangers midfielder to advance the ball through the middle of the pitch. The image also highlights space where either McGinn or Christie could have dropped into to link the play up to Naismith. However, neither player creates this option for Jack, causing him to play a hopeful pass up towards Naismith, who is crowded out by the two Kazakhstan central defenders.
In this second example, the positions of Jack and McGregor are again problematic for Scotland, preventing them from playing through the midfield. With both players positioned in front of the Kazakhstan block, the central passing lanes were obstructed by the narrow shape of the opposition’s midfield. Throughout the game, Kazakhstan found this lack of movement between the lines easy to deal with, forcing Scotland to play longer up towards Naismith, which Jack opts for on this occasion, bringing him no success.
In the next example, Scotland were able to play through the Kazakhstan midfield, thanks to the movement and positioning of the three Scotland midfielders. Here, centre back Gallagher is in possession and a passing lane has been created due to the positions of both McGregor, who has dropped deep to bring a midfielder out of the press, and Jack, who has moved towards the right side of the pitch, which also attracts pressure from one of the Kazakhstan central midfielders. This movement allows Gallagher to play into McGinn, who has dropped, disorganising the Kazakhstan defence in the process.
The second image shows McGinn able to flick the ball onto striker Naismith, who plays wide to Christie, allowing Scotland to enter the final third. Moments later, Naismith is able to win a free-kick on the edge of the box, from which McGinn is able to power home the Scotland equaliser.
Despite this success, the image above indicates that Scotland’s lack of mobility in midfield hampered them throughout the game. Here, Gallagher is once again forced to play long, conceding possession, caused by the positions of Jack and McGregor who are on the same line, making it easy for the Kazakhstan midfielders to pick them up. As can be seen, McGinn and Forrest have dropped in an attempt to receive between the lines, but as mentioned previously, the passing lanes are blocked due to positioning of the Kazakhstan midfielders.
Wingers moving inside
Despite the difficulties faced when attempting to play through the opposition, Scotland’s wing play enabled them to enter the final third and cause problems for the opposition throughout the match. In the first example above, the central passing lanes are blocked, however, Scotland are able to advance possession to the wide areas, thanks to the opposite movements of Christie and Palmer. Here, the Celtic winger moves inside, dragging the Kazakhstan left back inside with him. This creates space for right-back Palmer to advance down the wing, where he is able to receive and enter the final third.
A similar situation was seen in the second half, where once again Christie has moved inside, drawing the left-back with him, creating space for Palmer to again receive and drive into the final third, from where he is able to deliver a cross into the box.
In this example, this time on the Scotland left, the narrow position of Forrest is able to create space in the wide-area for Taylor to exploit with a pass in behind the Kazakhstan right-back. The Celtic winger latches on to the throughball and delivers a cross into the Kazakhstan penalty area.
Runs from midfield
Another way in which Scotland were able to enter the final third, was through penetrative runs from the midfield players. Here, Christie is in possession on the right side of the Scotland midfield. Meanwhile, McGinn makes a forward run in behind the Kazakhstan defence and is picked out by the Celtic winger. A poor cross from the Aston Villa midfielder, however, does little to threaten the Kazakhstan centre backs.
Another run from deep, this time from McGregor on the left side of midfield, allows Scotland to enter the penalty box and deliver a dangerous cutback. The positions of McGinn and Naismith on this occasion are preventing the Kazakhstan central defenders from tracking the run of McGregor, giving the Celtic midfielder time and space to deliver the cross.
This example led to Scotland’s best chance of the first half, where Jack was able to make a penetrating run through the middle of the pitch, to receive between the lines, in front of the Kazakhstan back four. Again, the run of Christie on the near side creates space for Palmer to pick out the Rangers midfielder, who manages to weave through the defence and is denied by an excellent save.
Entering crossing positions
As mentioned, Scotland’s attacking success can be attributed to their good play in the wide areas, which was aided by the excellent link-up play between the fullback and winger on both sides of the Scotland attack. Here, Forrest has moved inside, and combines with left-back Taylor, who makes a run in behind the Kazakhstan fullback, finding himself in a position to deliver a dangerous cross.
The attacking ability of the Scotland fullbacks was again evident on this occasion, where Taylor manages to find himself in a position to cross. Centre back McKenna plays a penetrative pass into McGinn, who as seen in the second image, is able to turn and play in the Celtic left-back.
A similar situation occurs here on the Scotland right. This time, right-back Palmer finds himself higher up the pitch in the half-space and receives a pass from Jack, who has managed to break the Kazakhstan midfield line. The Rangers midfielder continues his run down the wing and Palmer combines with him, allowing Jack to deliver another cross into the Kazakhstan penalty area.
Here, the strong relationship between the winger and the fullback on the Scotland right side is evident. Christie, having driven inside, is able to pass into the path of the right-back Palmer, who has made an overlapping run into the Kazakhstan penalty area. Palmer’s cutback is directed narrowly wide by Naismith, who would have been disappointed not to have scored.
However, minutes later, this link-up play down the Scotland right led to the goal that put Scotland in front. Christie is in possession while Palmer is in the half-space and makes run in behind the Kazakhstan left-back. From here, Palmer is able to cross from the right side of the opposition’s penalty area, which is deflected into the path of Naismith, who nods home a header from close range.
Kazakhstan’s struggles in possession
Throughout the game, Kazakhstan failed to build possession, which was made more difficult by the organised Scotland press that also served them well in their previous game against Cyprus. On this occasion, Scotland’s mid-block prevents Kazakhstan from playing into either of their two central midfielders, instead opting to play long, gifting possession back to Scotland.
The same is seen in this example, where once again Scotland’s pressing shape has prevented either of the central midfielders getting on the ball, while Christie and Forrest are both well-positioned to press quickly should either of the wide central defenders receive the ball. With few options to play forward, the centre back in possession, pressed by Naismith, opts to play back to the goalkeeper, who’s launch up the pitch finds a Scotland head, returning possession to the home team.
The same outcome occurred even when Kazakhstan were able to string together a few passes along their back line. Christie’s aggressive pressing in each of the images above again demonstrates the effectiveness of the Scotland press in preventing Kazakhstan from building any sort of rhythm
A 3-1 win certainly didn’t flatter Scotland considering the amount of chances they were able to create, especially from the wide areas and from crossing positions. What may be a cause for concern, however, is their struggles playing through midfield, which have been evident in their previous games against Cyprus and Kazakhstan. With an array of talent to choose from in the midfield such as English Premier League regulars Scott McTominay, Kenny McLean, Stuart Armstrong, John Fleck and Billy Gilmour, Clarke may be keen to experiment with these players in order to improve Scotland’s ability in playing through central areas of the pitch.