Craig Levein claimed not to read the newspapers following Scotland’s defeat in Prague after his ultra-defensive tactics caused a stir. Probably just as well for him. But will he adopt a similarly negative approach tonight for the visit to Hampden of world champions Spain?
Scotland’s 1 – 0 defeat away to a side ranked ten places above them in the world rankings (47th against 37th respectively) was perhaps not a major surprise. Instead, it was the manner of the defeat that the media concentrated on, accusing the manager of “losing the plot”, with a team set up that caused consternation amongst many football fans.
You see, Craig Leven did not play a single forward. Not one.
The days of the attacking 2-3-5 formation are long gone. Even 4-4-2 is out of fashion these days. And many managers will choose a defensive 4-5-1 when playing a tough away game.
But Levein took this negative trend one stage further by employing a 4-6-0 formation. And his side followed his orders admirably, rarely venturing from their own half all night. The wide midfielders operated as second full backs and the central players packed the area in front of the penalty box.
There was no point in playing the ball into the opposition half, it seemed. No ambitions to mount a counter attack. Just a damage limitation mentality with a stubborn insistence on keeping the score down.
And it was simply awful to watch.
Tonight the all-conquering Spaniards come into town. They are missing star names like Xavi, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas through injury, but will still put out a very strong team. The likes of Silva, Iniesta, Llorente and Villa will be used in attacking roles.
Levein will know that hard work will be required when his players don’t have the ball, which is likely to be the majority of the game. And when they do have the ball the key will be retaining possession.
There are likely to be changes in personnel as injuries bite. Rumour has it that the manager will change to a more attacking formation by actually playing a forward, with Kenny Miller most likely to get the job. He will be asked to run the Spanish defence and to hold the ball on the rare occasions that it is played up to him.
No one is suggesting that Scotland should rush forward, gung ho and risk getting caught by swift Spanish counter attacks. But it would be nice if the home side at least attempted to put the odd attacking move together.
Craig Levein is not the most gifted manager ever to take charge of the national team. And he has, arguably, one of the poorest squads to pick from in many years. So a defeat against the Spanish tonight is probably to be expected. My prediction is a 2 – 0 away win.
Levein will not be judged on tonight’s result but rather on the performance of his side. Can they make a game of it? Will they at least attempt to play in the opposition’s half of the field? Could they even, perish the thought, actually cause Iker Casillas to dirty his gloves?
The Tartan Army will be looking for a creditable performance tonight, as will the press. Anything else and the media knives will be out once more, seeking an end to Craig Levein’s short career as Scotland manager.