Scotland whimpered to a 2-1 defeat away to Israel. A disappointing performance on a number of levels.
There’s the disappointment in losing of course, within the Nations League set up and after a positive win over Albania, progress in the competition suddenly looks more challenging while the threat of relegation also now appears an option or possibility whereas before there was a confidence that this would be easily navigated.
Israel are not ranked as a top team, with limited success and pedigree at this level in recent times. Yet they looked far more accomplished and comfortable in a game where, despite falling behind to a Charlie Mulgrew penalty, were well worth their victory.
Both sides opted for a 3-5-2 formation, so in theory there was a match up tactically. However it was the home side who were able to find and utilise spaces with ease and alarming frequency as Scotland resembled a muddled and uncomfortable side, not sure when to press, unsure of starting positions and ultimately appearing unsure as to what to do in order to win the game.
The 3-5-2 system has been a relative success story in the early games of Big Eck’s second stint in charge, a system designed to make the most of significant talent at left back, young centre halves and offer solidity through the spine of the team. Tonight though this appeared more like a mechanism by which players like Robertson and Tierney could be best shoehorned into the same team.
Gaps were appearing between wing backs and centre halves, while the midfield trio were failing to stamp any authority or control in the middle of the park and indeed looked overrun at times. Israel were very capable at exploiting this uncertainty and did so frequently through a difficult evening for the Scots.
Souttar’s sending off seemed apt in the second half, an indictment of a muddled and difficult performance where midfield nor defence were able to truly look comfortable.
The performance also highlighted an issue which has grown apparent over the recent friendlies, namely the lack of a “regista” in the midfield to control and dictate tempo, take the sting out of things and build up play. Inexperience maybe, but in away games at this level there is a need for someone to put their foot on the ball and control things for a period, particularly when much of the team were struggling to find positions.
The system has however been something of a plus point previously, and one bad game doesn’t necessarily change that, but Mcleish does appear to have some work to do for the remaining Nations League games.
Making best use of Tierney and Robertson is an obvious must, but regaining solidity while trying to find a system and utilising players to establish control on the pitch is another huge task.
Hopefully just a blip at this stage and hopefully a position from where lessons can be learned, there are certainly a few to be digested.