The Scottish Cup final will take place between Celtic/Rangers v Aberdeen/Motherwell on May 19th with Scotland playing friendlies against Peru on May 29th then Mexico four days later. It seems counterproductive to select players at teams that will be entering continental qualification the following month for these end of the season friendlies. For example: if, Leigh Griffiths were to get a bad injury – and he has had three separate setbacks throughout the campaign – then it would be catastrophic for the national team and their lack of quality depth at centre-forward. Also, what is to be gained from picking any Celtic player considering most people realise what they can do in a Scotland shirt. Callum McGregor, Craig Gordon, Griffiths, Jack Hendry, James Forrest, Kieran Tierney and Stuart Armstrong have 110 caps combined.
It is a near certainty that the top four spots in the Premiership will be filled by the teams that sit in them. The champions (Celtic) remain favourites to repeat the treble and as a result, the Europa League first qualifying round spot would get past down to the team in fourth (Hibernian) with second (Rangers) and third (Aberdeen) also entering the tournament at that stage. The first leg taking place on July 12th, the Champions League first qualifying round kicks off over the two days previous; less than six weeks after the friendly in the Estadio Azteca.
It is fair to select those that ply their trade in the Premiership, Premier League and English Championship in the main. Of course, you have Danny Wilson and Johnny Russell in MLS that should be in the pool considered for qualification to the European Championships in 2020. I also believe that there should not be a rush to fast-track members from the under 21s to the first team; unless there is no-one better. So, the likes of Chris Cadden and John Souttar should see out the under 21 qualification for next year’s European Championships and hopefully get that tournament experience and be the better for it. Omitting the those out of that scope along with those from the top four Scottish sides, that is still over 50 to choose from in the spring friendlies.
Alex McLeish selected a squad of 28 with seven first time call-ups (Barry Douglas, Dylan McGeouch, Hendry, Jon McLaughlin, Oli McBurnie, Scott McKenna and Scott McTominay) and a further three uncapped players (Jamie Murphy, Jordon Archer and Kevin McDonald). Yet, he could have gone further to freshen up the stale stench that Gordon Strachan left. The former Scotland manager was often criticised for not selecting on form players in the Premiership enough and sticking with the same old faces regardless of how they were performing.
Here are some changes that McLeish could have made to his squad for the games at Hampden against Costa Rica and Hungary that would have appeased those that were frustrated by his former teammate:
Jamie MacDonald instead of Allan McGregor
Now I can understand why McGregor was picked. He is Hull’s first choice goalkeeper ahead of the capable David Marshall. However, the former Rangers shot-stopper is 36. MacDonald is five years younger than his colleague and has earned 10 U21 caps. Along with McLaughlin, he has been a real standout in the division this season for a Kilmarnock team that is flying under Steve Clark.
Stephen O’Donnell instead of the injured Kieran Tierney
Callum Paterson is the undisputed number one right back and there has been little to no effort in finding someone that can deputise for him going forward. Ikechi Anya and Tierney have slotted in there from time to time. O’Donnell has had plenty of experience in the Premiership and he was also capped at U21 level. It is more sensible to have a look rather than selecting three left backs. Two of which (Robertson and Tierney) we know will be in nearly every squad for competitive games when fit.
Liam Lindsay instead of Grant Hanley
Straightforward here. We know what Hanley is capable of with 28 caps over the previous seven years. Lindsay was the glue that stuck Partick Thistle’s backline together. He has impressed at Barnsley to the extent that Premier League sides are keeping a watchful eye on him regardless if the Tykes stay up or are relegated to League One.
Paul Hanlon instead of Charlie Mulgrew
Mulgrew is a 32-year-old with 31 caps playing down in League One with Blackburn. At 28, Hanlon is entering his prime in his testimonial season with a Hibernian side that has lived up to their potential since winning the Scottish Cup in 2016. It is about time that he got his first cap, he has earned it.
Graeme Shinnie instead of Kenny McLean
I am not sure what Shinnie needs to do to get a cap for Scotland. Considering that there are few defensive midfielders of quality that are eligible – especially after the retirement of Scott Brown and Darren Fletcher entering his mid-30s – it seems a no-brainer to include him in friendlies to see if he can take his form from Aberdeen to the international stage. McLean has had his opportunities to show that he is worthy of being in the pool of players considered for the next four years and would be fine to stick around for the spring friendlies considering he is now a English Championship player.
John Fleck instead of the injured Dylan McGeouch
Fleck was overhyped to a ridiculously extend that he was unlikely to make the heady heights that were thought of him when he made his competitive debut for Rangers at 16 and then became the youngest ever person to participate in a cup final played on British soil. He was much sought after by Sheffield United but he would not move down to the Steel City for four and a half years after interest was first lodged. Fleck established himself at the turbulent Coventry City in the third tier and won the League One with the Blades in his first season with the Blades. He and fellow Scot, Paul Coutts – sadly sidelined through injury after 14 games – have been the two standouts for the side in playoff contention. A call-up would have been redeeming and worthy for the centre midfielder that was capped at u17 to 21 level.
Scott Allan instead of Stuart Armstrong
Allan, John McGinn and McGeouch, make up the exciting Hibernian midfield which is second only to Celtic in ability. Since he returned to Easter Road he has started five games as the Hibees collected three wins (Aberdeen, Hearts and Rangers) and a two draws (Kilmarnock and St Johnstone) versus the top eight; scoring once and assisting three times. He is another player that reached double-digit caps for the U21s. Armstrong’s inclusion would have been a non-issue, but he came back after two months out with a knee injury for a four-minute cameo against Rangers a week last Sunday. He is never going to be match fit for Costa Rica and Hungary.
Sam Gallagher instead of Matt Phillips
Having the two centre forwards called up limits the options that McLeish has. It is possible that Gallagher does not want to commit to Scotland. However, if he does then having someone with the quality to play the lone striker role is always welcomed. With James Forrest and Matt Ritchie as those that play on the right flank, Phillips would be the odd man out.
If that was not a viable then I would have included Stevie May.
Gary Mackay-Steven instead of Ryan Fraser
Barrie McKay can play in the spring friendlies whereas Fraser seems the like the best option at left wing moving forward. Selecting a few Aberdeen players would have endeared himself to his former club, whose supporters often noted (rightly so) that their better performers were getting overlooked. Mackay-Steven has been in good form and when he is confident he can perform acts that some members of the squad can only dream of.
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