McGinn the Key Man
The Scots booked their play-off final place courtesy of a dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Israel at Hampden Park, after a tense goalless draw. First up in the shootout for Scotland that night was John McGinn, with the Aston Villa star calmly converting his effort to set up a memorable win for the hosts.
McGinn has been without a doubt Scotland’s standout performer in the qualifiers, with the midfielder netting seven and assisting two of his side’s 16 goals so far.
Indeed, no other Scottish player has managed more than one goal in qualifying so far while McGinn’s goal involvement total of nine is three times more than the next best contributor for the Scots.
Worryingly for both Scotland and McGinn, he’s not scored or assisted a single goal in any of his five appearances for his national side this season, despite playing 386 minutes. This match would be the perfect occasion to end that run, however.
Robertson v Lazovic: The Key Battle
There’s no doubt that Scotland consider Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson as one of their most important players in the squad, but how they utilise him in this match could be the key between winning and losing.
Against Israel in their playoff semi-final, Robertson was a key outlet for Scotland on the left, with 111 touches (24 more than any other Scotland player) as he provided a match-high 13 crosses.
Looking at the passing routes of the Scotland side in that game against Israel, there seems a clear plan to give Robertson the ball and allow him to advance Scotland up the pitch. The graphic above demonstrates Scotland’s strongest passing routes that night. The lines represent those passing partnerships where the two players involved made eight or more passes between them. The thicker the line, the more passes that duo made.
What will be key in this game against Serbia is if Robertson can win his personal duel with Serbian right midfielder Darko Lazovic.
In their 2-1 playoff semi-final win in Norway last month, Lazovic put in a brilliant attacking display, creating four goalscoring chances and firing in 15 crosses – a clear and dangerous tactic of the Serbian side with accomplished aerial threat Aleksandar Mitrovic as number nine.
If Lazovic is able to push Andy Robertson back and force him to concentrate on his defensive duties for the Scots, then Steve Clarke’s side will be weakened by losing one of their key attacking outlets.
Fortune Favours The Brave
Scotland come into this crucial match on a run of three clean sheets in a row, but without showing much attacking quality.
It would be fair to say that they rode their luck in their most recent game; a 1-0 home win over Czech Republic on October 14th, with the Czechs somehow not finding a goal despite a total of 2.6 expected goals (xG), the most Scotland have allowed an opponent in a game in 11 matches.
Across their last five competitive matches, Scotland have posted an xG total of just 5.9 and have attempted just two shots on target in their last three matches overall.
The re-introduction of Leigh Griffiths could give Scotland an attacking edge, with the 30-year-old Celtic striker looking to make his first appearance for the Scots since September 2018.
Griffiths is a proven goalscorer, but his last three seasons have been disrupted by injury and personal issues.
Of the 14 players to have scored 10+ goals in the Scottish Premiership since the start of last season, only Jermain Defoe has a better minute-per-goal ratio and shot conversion rate than Scottish striker Griffiths.
The Weight of History
Coming into this game, Scotland have failed to qualify for each of the last 10 major international tournaments since last appearing in the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
They came close in qualification for both Euro 2000 and Euro 2004, but suffered heartache against England and the Netherlands, respectively.
Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group I:
This time – despite finishing third in their group of six teams – Scotland were nine points off 2nd placed Russia. But, with the new UEFA Nations League ‘get-out-clause’, they have been given a second chance.
Interestingly, their 19 goals conceded in qualification for Euro 2020 is the most they have ever conceded in a single qualifying campaign for a major international finals tournament, but their fantastic UEFA Nations League campaign last season should give them some a big confidence boost ahead of this game.
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