England v Scotland: Where Wembley tussle will be won and lost

England v Scotland: Where Wembley tussle will be won and lost

Scotland's Scott McTominay (left) and Czech Republic's Vladimir Darida battle for the ball. McTominay is Scotland’s best central midfielder alongside John McGinn and Stuart Armstrong, Gerry Cox writes

The anniversary of Bannockburn is still a week away, but there will be plenty of battles on the Wembley pitch tonight as Scotland attempt another victory over the English.

Key areas will be the flanks, central midfield and defence/attack, and an intriguing battle of wits on the sidelines between Gareth Southgate and Steve Clarke.

Harry Kane v Grant Hanley

Jamie Carragher claimed this week that at 27 Kane is past his best without the pace or energy of 2018 when he won the World Cup Golden Boot.

However, those suggestions have been shot down by his manager, teammates, and pretty well anyone who has watched Kane regularly.

Because Kane is willing to drop deep and link play, he creates chances or opens up space for quicker players, which happened when Raheem Sterling scored against Croatia.

Grant Hanley will have to decide whether to leave Scotland’s back three to go up the pitch with Kane, or trust a holding midfielder to take over at times. Either way, it creates uncertainty.

Scott McTominay v Kalvin Phillips

Presuming that Steve Clarke will keep McTominay in midfield, where England were too strong for Croatia in an area Luka Modric and Co used to dominate, but Phillips and Declan Rice provided a strong double pivot.

McTominay is Scotland’s best central midfielder alongside John McGinn and Stuart Armstrong, whose instincts are more attacking. But he has also been used in a back three for Scotland and, given that Clarke has to work out how to shackle Kane (see previous battle) then perhaps McTominay is best suited to that role, starting in defence but with licence to follow the England captain however deep he drops.

Andy Robertson v Kyle Walker or Reece James

It is no secret that Robertson is Scotland’s best player, while Walker is one of England’s weakest links. The Manchester City man is strong and athletic going forward, but prone to defensive errors — in concentration, judgement, or technique — and gave the ball away worryingly often in last week’s win over Croatia. It may be the Chelsea man who gets the nod this time, given the sterling job he did against Manchester City in the Champions League final.

Robertson has the ability to whip in dangerous crosses from deep or lateral positions, and he also likes running to the far post when the ball comes in from the right, an area where Walker has had a blind spot before.

Gareth Southgate v Steve Clarke

Southgate silenced a lot of the doubters on Sunday, rewarded for his controversial team selection by a strong all-round performance. He was particularly vindicated for sticking with Raheem Sterling and also the unlikely selection of the inexperienced Kalvin Phillips, who was man of the match, and playing Kieran Trippier at left back.

Ben Chilwell and Reece James could return as full- or wing-backs, depending on whether Southgate decides to match up Clarke’s favoured formation of a back three/five.

England have switched between three and four at the back with ease, whereas Clarke would be making a bold move by going to a flat back four. Clarke is also likely to bring Che Adams into the starting lineup, but his dilemma is whether to attack England and try to do some early damage, or aim at containment and hope to nick a goal on the break.

Either way, he may have to call on the spirit of Robert the Bruce.

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