Here’s the first of our Euro 2020 fantasy team previews where Rob Reid previews Scotland and Wales.
Euro 2020 Fantasy Team Previews – Rob Reid Previews Scotland And Wales
Hi everyone and welcome to the first of my Euro 2020 team previews. A few of the Fantasy Football Geek team will be writing preview articles analysing some of the nations and their assets from the perspective of the UEFA Euro 2020 Fantasy Football Game. From the set of teams I’ve opted to take on, I guess it would only be natural that I would start by looking at my own nation, Scotland and the other home nation that I closely follow – Wales.
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Overall Bookies Odds – 200/1
Group Odds – 11/1
Fixtures to target – Czech Republic (MD1)
This summer will evoke strong memories for me as I remember back to the last time Scotland qualified for a major tournament in 1998. I was finishing my first year at Uni and the World Cup was on around the time I had my exams. I recall fondly taking an afternoon out from my studies with a couple of mates, to camp out in an Edinburgh pub for the opening game of the tournament – Scotland vs Brazil. It was a great day. From John Collins’ cheeky wink as the camera panned across our team signing Flower of Scotland, to the agony of losing narrowly to a fortuitous Tom Boyd own goal.
Our studies probably suffered a bit as we sank a few beers that day, but they were good times. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was again in the same pub, the evening after I’d found out I’d passed my first year. I was watching Scotland’s latest attempt at reaching the knockout stages for an elusive first time crumble in an ignominious 3-0 defeat to Morocco. How could I have known that evening that it would be another 23 years before we would grace a major tournament again?
As for our chances this time around, one thing that 23 years of scrambling draws versus the Faroe Islands, being played off the park in Georgia and getting gubbed 3-0 in Kazakhstan has taught Scotland fans is that we have to be realistic about our chances. We edged into this tournament by the skin of our teeth. We were hopeless in the initial qualifying group, and got in through the back door thanks to a Nations League campaign where we topped a group containing Albania and Israel.
Even then, we needed 2 penalty shoot-outs and we are in a group with both a World Cup Finalist and a World Cup semi-finalist. Our chances of reaching the knockouts are slim. But in a way the pressure is off in this respect. Scotland have already conquered their Everest by merely qualifying in the first place and 2 of our 3 group matches will be at home, hopefully roared on by 12,000 members of The Tartan Army. Dare we dream that come Tuesday 22nd June that we will be boogying some more?
Qualification, form and playing style
Since becoming Scotland manager in mid-2019, Steve Clarke has managed to imprint a stubborn and better organised playing style. The early part of his tenure went poorly as we were thumped twice by Belgium and Russia at the tail end of group qualifying, but the seeds of regrowth were laid with wins hard fought wins away in Cyprus and at home to Kazakhstan. The pandemic then hit, but when the autumn international fixture set arrived, Scotland produced a gutsy display to defeat Israel on penalties in the Nations League semi-final, before beating Slovakia and other group opponents the Czech Republic 1-0 at Hampden. They then defied the odds to beat Serbia on penalties in Belgrade in the Nations League Final and send the nation into raptures.
Since then, Scotland’s form has been a bit up and down. They lost away in Israel and Slovakia in their other Nations League matches to miss out on topping their group. Their World Cup Qualification then started out with a stumble – a 2-2 home draw against Austria and 1-1 away in Israel before a comfortable 4-0 win over The Faroe Isles. They have warm-up matches against the Netherlands and Luxembourg before their opener against the Czechs on June 14th, so it will be interesting to see how they fare in these. Scotland’s record against the bigger nations hasn’t been great in the last few years so I can’t see the Netherlands game ending well and Luxembourg have proved pretty sticky opposition for a number of big teams of late so that could be a confidence buster too.
As for playing style, Scotland’s problem at the moment is that their best players are all stuck in the same position, with there being real shortages in others. For example, we have 2 genuinely world class left-backs in Robertson and Tierney and a number of good central midfielders, but a shortage of quality right-backs, central defenders and strikers! To try and get around this, Clarke has opted to use players out of position, though he seemed to steer away from that in Scotland’s last few matches and I think this latter approach makes us stronger.
Scotland will probably operate with 3 at the back (likely Tierney, Cooper and 1 of Hanley, Hendry or Gallagher) with Robertson at left-back and Stephen O’Donnell likely to get the nod on the right. McTominay has played at centre-half a lot for Scotland with Clarke utilising him there so that he can bring the ball up from the back, but with Cooper fit, he should be deployed in defensive midfield with Celtic’s Callum McGregor likely to join him there. John McGinn will be the other centre-midfielder and he operates in a more advanced and creative role than he does for Aston Villa and as such does represent a genuine goal threat; he was our top-scorer in qualifying with 7 goals. The 2 forward spots will probably see Ryan Christie at 10 with Che Adams or Lyndon Dykes as the figure-head of the attack. The likes of Stewart Armstrong, Ryan Fraser and James Forrest are also there as attacking options as alternatives.
For me, if you’re going to target Scotland assets I think you need to do this for their first game versus the Czech Republic. I can’t see them getting anything away to England at Wembley and I think they will struggle against Croatia in the 3rd game. Scotland did beat the Czechs home and away in the Nations League last year, but take this with a pinch of salt – they were lucky to win at Hampden (Soucek missed an absolute sitter) and they played the Czech reserve team in the away game due to a Covid outbreak, and again were very lucky to win 2-1 as the Czech B team played us off the park that night.
David Marshall (4.5m) should be Scotland’s starting keeper, so as you’re likely to have alternating keepers that you can switch in the Matchday substitution windows, he might be worth a punt as he’s cheap he’ll hopefully rack up save points and (as Aleksander Mitrovic will testify) he can be good for a penalty save. Elsewhere, the main attack threat is from John McGinn (7.5m) and penalty and free-kick taker Ryan Christie (7m) but for me there are better options with other nations at these price points. The one other option to consider though could be Kieran Tierney (5m). He’s priced a little more favourably than Andy Robertson (5.5m) and does offer potential for attacking returns in the form of assists.
Overall Bookies Odds – 150/1
Group Odds – 9/1
Fixtures to target – Switzerland (MD1); Turkey (MD2)
Wales are my second team internationally – my wife is Welsh and a big Swansea City fan and I had a couple of happy years working in the Welsh Valleys after I left Uni. In the same way that Scotland qualifying brings back great memories, so does Wales (albeit far more recently) as their incredible semi-final run in 2016 happened just a few weeks after my son was born. The quarter-final win over Belgium was a joyous occasion in our household, with family gathered around to meet the recent arrival and the handy distraction of Wales doing the unthinkable by qualifying for the European Championship semi-finals. Oh, and that Robson-Kanu goal – that’s worth a YouTube search if nothing else!
The Welsh team looks a bit different this time around. The management team has changed and by circumstance changed again since their adventures in France and while some of the spine of that squad remain, the team has gone through a transition period with the retirement of old heads such as Ashley Williams and the blooding of a number of promising youngsters. Amongst this all though there is still star quality. Aaron Ramsey will no doubt be hugely influential provided he is fit and although he may not be the force he has been in previous years, Gareth Bale still possess that match-winning sparkle.
Qualification, form and playing style
Amazingly 4 teams ended up qualifying from Group E, but Wales took the easier route pipping Slovakia and Hungary into second place to qualify automatically. The key to qualification was firstly their home form – 3 wins and a draw (against Croatia) and secondly a miserly defence that only conceded 6 goals and only shipped over 1 goal on a solitary occasion. Their form since qualification has also been good. They comfortably topped their Nations League group, winning 5 games out of 6 in a group containing Finland, Ireland and Bulgaria and although they lost their opening World Cup qualifier in Belgium, they bounced back with a solid 1-0 home win against the Czech Republic.
Wales’ playing style is based around a well-organised defensive structure, and they like to play the ball out from the back. And while the talismanic Gareth Bale and Juventus star Aaron Ramsey are undoubtedly their star draws, they possess a lot of other attacking talent in Daniel James, Harry Wilson, Keifer Moore and David Brooks. Defensively, Rob Page experimented with a couple of different systems in the Nations League. I would expect Rodon and Mepham to feature in central defence but this could as part of a back 4 or a 3, possibly with James Lawrence who plays in Germany with St Pauli. Ben Davies is likely to be deployed at either left-back of left wing-back, but the right back role could be up for grabs with Neco Williams or Connor Roberts options here. The central midfield double pivot will almost certainly contain Ethan Ampadu who already has 22 caps at the tender age of 20. Who he’ll be joined by is open to debate but I think the favourite could be Luton Town’s Joe Morrell who played well in the recent win over the Czechs.
I don’t expect Wales to concede many goals in this tournament, but I also don’t expect them to score many either. The other negative is that Wales are playing all 3 games away from home – 2 in Baku and then a tough 3rd game in Rome against hosts Italy. I’d be surprised if they repeat the heroics of 2016 but I think they’ve got a reasonable chance of reaching the knockouts. I could see them picking up a win and a draw in their opening 2 games, which should be enough for qualification in 2nd or 3rd place but I think they’ll find going beyond the last 16 a bridge too far this time.
Gareth Bale (9.5m) will be most people’s pick from Wales and I would almost consider him to be an out of position player, seeing as Wales effectively use him as a striker and he’s listed as a midfielder. He takes nearly all Wales’ free-kicks, is on penalties too and his goal record for Wales in excellent – 33 goals in 90 games. Aaron Ramsey (8.5m) and Daniel James (6.5m) are a little cheaper, but offer less return potential for that price drop so I think if I was going for a Welsh attacking player, I’d probably be trying to rustle up the funds to splash out on Bale. There are a couple of cheap options in defence – Joe Rodon (4.5m) and James Lawrence (4.5m) both look good value, with the Spurs man the more likely starter. I’d probably avoid Wales in MD3 though as I don’t expect them to get any change out of their visit to Rome.