As if any Scottish or English football fan would need reminding. The two nations will go toe to toe this evening at Hampden Park in their Group F World Cup Qualifier. A game which is important to each set of fans and always delivers something special. The rivalry is fierce and the two sets of fans will want the bragging rights when the final whistle blows.
It has been a rough patch for the English national team. The European Championship disappointment and the Sam Allardyce scandal have meant that new boss Gareth Southgate has not taken over a steady ship. This will be his fifth game in charge of the team and he still holds an unbeaten record to date. Two wins and two draws, not the worst start to a managers career but it could have been a whole lot better. A 0-0 draw against Slovenia, a game that England would expect to win, came before conceding two goals late against Spain to draw 2-2. In his time in charge he has faced Scotland and won. The game at Wembley 3-0 thanks to goals from Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill. Southgate’s side sit pretty at the top of Group F with 13 points, a four point gap from second. They will be hoping to increase their lead in Scotland.
Scotland are still in with a great chance of gaining qualification to the tournament, which will be held in Russia in the summer of 2018. They have won two of their five games, drew one and lost the remaining two games. They are currently fourth in the group but are only two points behind Slovakia who are in second. The Scots got their World Cup campaign back on track after back to back 3-0 defeats against Slovakia and England with a 1-0 victory over qualification rivals Slovenia. The group is finally poised and every game at this time is vital. Scotland have a solid record at Hampden Park and will hope the crowd can drum up an intense atmosphere. Surely they need no more motivation to do so when they face England.
England will start with a familiar back five. Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Ryan Bertrand. It’s a solid defence with there is a lot of experience. They will have a holding midfield duo of Eric Dier and Jake Livermore. Dier is established in the set up for his age but Livermore not so much, it will only be his third appearance and in such a hostile atmosphere it will be a huge test for him. Midfield will be key in the game and having a very inexperienced player partnered with another young player could be a risk. The shock in the front four comes with Raheem Sterling dropping to the bench. England will start with Marcus Rashford, Adam Lallana and Dele Alli behind captain Harry Kane. It’s a strong side from Southgate which has a good balance of experience and raw talent.
Scotland themselves have an experienced side, Craig Gordon, Charlie Mulgrew, Scott Brown, Robert Snodgrass and Leigh Griffiths all start and will be vital to Scotland’s chances in such a big game. If they can make the most of set pieces and the quality that Snodgrass brings to those situations they could really damage England. The defence will be key for the Scots. If they can keep England at bay they have every chance of securing a vital win in terms of qualification and confidence.
The key to this game will be how Scotland can handle the English front line. The youthful Rashford will be a big problem to the Scottish defence if he can get the ball and be allowed space. If Scotland can dominate the middle of the park where Livermore is inexperienced at this level they may get a foothold in the middle of the park they can cause England’s strong back four problems.
Victory is vital for both sides. However, England must be favourites for this one. While they have not clicked under Southgate so far the quality they posses should see them return south with the points. If Scotland can get into the English players faces and give the crowd fuel to intimidate England it could be a different story. They had their moments against England at Wembley and if Scotland can take their chances or get a lead in the game England could struggle to get their rhythm. It will be a hugely exciting game that will be enjoyed far and wide. Lets hope that both sides bring their best and the game lives up to the hype.