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Analysis: How the Republic of Ireland can beat Scotland

Gordon Strachan’s side have defensive issues that can be exploited while their shape leads to opportunities.

Defensive vulnerability

AS NOTED ELSEWHERE, Alan Hutton’s performance against Poland was awful and it was no great surprise that the home side targeted that flank consistently throughout the 2-2 draw between the sides. But despite the full-back’s recent struggles, Scotland’s centre-halves aren’t the most commanding of figures either and can be quite lumbering and uncertain on occasion.

In the diagram below, look at the distance between centre-half and full-back. While at the bottom of your picture, Lewandowski is clean through on goal if a clever pass is played over the top. The attack leads to the ball played into the space between Hutton and Martin and Lewandowski almost gets on the end of the cross.

ScotDefenceGeneralFinal Source: Scotland National Team via YouTube

Later, the lack of communication between the defence cropped up again. Hutton, clearly struggling, needed help but got caught out by Milik with fourteen minutes to go. But, as detailed below, Martin didn’t react quickly enough to get across. As soon as the ball is played, Martin needed to read the run and cut it off. Instead, he dallied for a brief moment and got to Milik too late – the shot fizzing past Marshall for the equaliser.

The defence needs to be sharper, anticipating movement further out the field.

ScotDefenceGeneral2Final Source: Scotland National Team via YouTube

By playing on the counter attack, Scotland are vulnerable when the game is stretched (more on that in a moment) but are usually quite disciplined in getting bodies back. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean much if players are unsure of what position they should take up.

Here, Lewandowski is faced with Hutton while two other Scottish players are close by. But Shaun Maloney and Martin don’t offer anything other than their presence. In theory, Lewandowski can easily bring the ball onto his left and make it to the by-line – rendering Maloney and Martin completely useless. The centre-back should be a lot more aware and get closer to the ball while Maloney needs to cover his full-back – not drop-off into no-man’s land. Seeing the space, Lewandowski actually cuts inside Hutton, takes another touch in the area and forces Marshall into an excellent stop.

ScotDefenceGeneral3Final Source: Scotland National Team via YouTube

Shape leads to space

By playing 4-4-2 and enjoying the counter attack, Scotland can leave themselves short, especially at home. Given the fact it’s a derby clash in Glasgow tomorrow and emotions will be running high, there’a an increased opportunity that there will be gaps. It’s imperative that Ireland capitalise.

In a tight qualifier against Georgia, the guests had an excellent breakaway chance and it was a perfect snapshot of gambling too much further up the field.

ScotDefenceRightFinal Source: Scotland National Team via YouTube

The only problem with the attack was that the wrong pass was played. What should’ve happened was the striker dropping short, taking one of the centre-halves with him before releasing the winger down the left side. It would’ve been snappier and embracing the space more. Instead, the Georgian midfielder elects to play it wide immediately, ensuring a difficult angle with which to build upon. And, unsurprisingly, Scotland got bodies back to try and intercept the isolated winger.

ScotDefenceMidfield1Final Source: Scotland National Team via YouTube

But, as highlighted before, despite having a numerical advantage, Scotland can lose concentration quickly. With six players back to combat the Georgian break, there’s no reason why it should end up in anything but the attacking side losing possession.

But that doesn’t happen. Instead, the centre of the Scottish defence couldn’t deal with a simple turn in the area and the ball broke to the edge of the area where Dzaria fizzed a shot wide. He also had the option of slipping a pass to his right but the strike on goal was always inevitable and it was a major let-off for the Scots.

ScotDefenceMidfield2Final Source: Scotland National Team via YouTube

Minimalise attacking threats

It sounds simplistic but because of the recent form of both Steven Naismith and Steven Fletcher, it’s crucial that the Irish defence can quell their influence on the game. Fletcher may not have scored in the qualifiers yet but he’s played a critical role and does have a nice dynamic with the Everton attacker.

In attack, there are always numbers for Scotland, usually five. A full-back pushing on, the two wide players and the two strikers. This was a superb move against Georgia and desperately deserved a goal. Naismith shows his importance here – watch how he drifts to the wing in the first image as Anya steps inside alongside Fletcher who is aware of the support on his shoulder and already eyeing up the space in the near channel.

ScotAttackShapeFinal Source: Scotland National Team via YouTube

Fletcher drops the shoulder and dummies, racing into the space before picking up Anya’s pass. Naismith senses the opportunity, smells the chance and darts into the area on a diagonal run to get as close to Fletcher as he can. His movement is intelligent but Fletcher, again, has the awareness to back-heel perfectly and Naismith flashed the shot across goal when he really should’ve hit the target.

ScotAttackShape3Final Source: Scotland National Team via YouTube

Anya is another offensive weapon that Scotland have counted on throughout this qualification campaign so far. He has terrific pace – showcased by his brilliant goal against Germany.


Seamus Coleman will have his work cut out but because the Everton man is such an offensive threat for Ireland, Anya will have to be careful too that he doesn’t over-commit himself.

Like Scotland, Ireland don’t have the nous or concentration to narrow the pitch for the full game. There will be spaces and Scotland will look to exploit them in wide areas and with neat triangles in and around the area. And even in deep positions, Anya is a threat. Against Poland, both strikers moved out the pitch, Maloney took up a central position and once Fletcher’s sweeping pass opened things up, there was always a goal threat because of Anya’s ability. His first touch was superb, his cut-back excellent too and Maloney applied the finishing touch from close-range.



We’ve already seen how Scotland’s defensive lapses have nearly cost them already in the group stage. But, they are vulnerable when the game is taken to them. Poland succeeded enormously in getting players forward and putting them on the back-foot. Granted, they were at home but the pressure in the final third is something Ireland will surely have noted.

They don’t have comfortable ball players so individual error is always a potential occurrence. Against the Poles, they conceded the first goal because of Hutton’s error but also because of the numbers in and around the Scottish area who were there to capitalise.


It’s cliched but good pressure caused a slip and by fronting up to the Scots, especially in attacking zones, Ireland can get chances.

Source: SA WarDobrowolski Poland/YouTube

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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