Alex McLeish: Discovering a winning team was not an accident
Alex McLeish has rejected the notion he stumbled across the successful team selection and formation which kept Scotland in contention to win their Nations League group and secure a guaranteed play-off spot for the Euro 2020 finals.
The Scotland manager is ready to field an unchanged starting XI against Israel at Hampden tonight in the aftermath of Saturday’s impressive 4-0 victory in Albania.
McLeish’s options were diminished by the withdrawal of nine players from his squad ahead of the trip to Shkoder but he insists it was no happy accident that led him to choose the side which delivered the best display so far of his second stint in charge of his country.
“I don’t think it’s by mistake,” said McLeish. “I don’t think we just ‘found’ a team. At the end of the day, it’s about the quality of players on the pitch, it’s about me trying to make them into world class international stars.
“I want to impart my experience of the things I learned on the pitch, added to what they get at their clubs.
“We wanted to play the players who were in top form for their clubs, as much as possible. That’s what you are looking for as an international manager.
“For example, that was Ryan Fraser’s first competitive game for me and he has been in very good form at Bournemouth. So there wasn’t any surprise to see what he or anyone else did on Saturday night. We expected the kind of performances we got from the players.
“I’ll be tempted to play the same team again against Israel. We’ll keep it close to our chests at the minute but I’ve done that before on many, many occasions as a manager. The good news after Saturday is that everyone is fit to play.”
Having experimented with a three at the back set-up in previous matches, McLeish reverted to a flat back four on Saturday. He says the deployment of a 4-3-3 system has always been part of his longer term planning.
“I observed a lot of teams, like Fulham for example, playing 4-3-3 over the last couple of years,” he added. “When I was thinking about it for Scotland, I envisaged Scott Brown as the hub in a 4-3-3 but of course that didn’t happen.
“It was always in my head for Scotland, 4-3-3. But we also wanted to try different things and new faces. Other factors prevented us getting to use certain systems, so we tried other ones. I don’t regret that.
“It was an era in our history where we had to try it, had to take a hit in terms of some of the results, even if it’s still painful when you lose. Overall, I am happy with where we are at the minute.
“We were pretty single-minded ahead of Saturday, we prepared well. We had some ideas immediately after analysing the defeat in Israel last month and we spring into action quickly in terms of preparation.
“Yeah, there were a couple of casualties from what would have been our first choice eleven but the team played to a great level of performance. We said that if they did that, we would be confident of the outcome and that’s what happened.”
Victory over Israel will see Scotland win Group C1 of the inaugural UEFA Nations League. As well as earning the insurance of a place in the Euro 2020 play-offs, it would also see them among the third pot of seeds in the main qualifying draw for the tournament which takes place in Dublin on December 2.
Probable Scotland team: