It is finally here! Well, Wednesday. Scotland vs England. The Euros. Scotland’s debut at a major international tournament against their Auld Enemy.
Can Scotland win? Of course, they can. I believe that Hayley Lauder is still a doubt for the England game, so I will slightly assume that she won’t start. To me, this would be a big loss, but that’s football for you.
I think Scotland will set up in what I will call, an uber-flexible 4-4-2. One of England’s strengths will be their pace of attack, so I can imagine Leanne Crichton being asked to sit as a holding midfielder, in between the defence and midfield duo of Caroline Weir and Erin Cuthbert.
Leanne Ross will play as a right wide midfielder, with probably Lisa Evans as a left-midfielder – assuming that Lauder is unable to start. Up front will be Jane Ross and Fiona Brown, with a back four of Frankie Brown, Rachel Corsie, Vaila Barsley and Kirsty Smith – with Gemma Fay in goal.
So why will that be uber-flexible? If needs be, Leanne Ross can drop into a back-five, Fiona Brown can (and will) drop in as a right winger without the ball. Cuthbert can be moved further forward to either play off a striker or on the wing. Depending on how the match goes, that starting eleven can easily become about five other formations.
The key players for Scotland will be Vaila Barsley and Erin Cuthbert.
Barsley is so key because Scotland’s defence has for a while been their weakest point. It had long been the case that the idea of Scotland lining up without Jennifer Beattie and Rachel Corsie against quality opposition as worrying. It’s not that their replacements were bad players, I mean Ifeoma Dieke has incredible experience (and the only player with tournament experience having played for Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics) and Joelle Murray is a star defender in the SWPL 1. But there was something always missing without Beattie or Corsie alongside them.
Barsley has been a revelation. The key to the best defenders is their anticipation, which space to fill, which player to pick up. Barsley seems to know where to place herself, and her leadership is second to none. I can see the future Scotland team being built around her.
In the centre of midfield, Erin Cuthbert will be key. Her range of passing is superb, as is her finishing, but that’s not her strength. Cuthbert’s main strength is her positivity. She will pick up the ball and run at the English defence, she has no fear in that regards and that will worry England. Her first thought always seems, ‘how can I turn this into a chance’.
That may be the difference between a narrow defeat and a draw, or a draw and a win.