It’s been a mixed bag in the Nations League so far for Scotland. Victory over Albania at Hampden Park was followed by a frustrating 2-1 defeat in Israel.
Saturday sees another away trip, as Alex McLeish’s men head to Shkoder with their sights set on a double over Albania.
There’s plenty of international experience in McLeish’s squad. But there are also some real talents looking to establish themselves on the scene. We look at three who could deserve a start on Saturday night.
David Bates (CB, Hamburger SV)
Hamburg suffered a shock relegation from the Bundesliga last season, dropping down for the first time in the division’s 55-year tender. But they’re on course to come straight back up – thanks in large part to the beast that is Bates.
The club’s record with and without their Scottish summer signing speaks volumes. When he’s played, they’ve conceded just five times in 11 games. Without him, they’ve shipped 10 in four matches.
Powerful, assured and commanding in the air, the 22-year-old looks close to the finished article at centre-back. He’s yet to be capped by the senior Scotland side, but expect that to change very soon.
Gary Mackay-Steven (LM, Aberdeen)
While he’s a natural left-sided midfielder, GMS might be the most versatile weapon the Scots have. So far this season, he’s played on both sides of midfield for Aberdeen – as well as featuring on the wing.
It’s testament to his importance for the Reds that Mackay-Steven is yet to miss a minute of football in all competitions this season.
He’s a real threat cutting inside, and has already racked up six goals in his 17 club outings this term. It’s something of a surprise that the 28-year-old has only managed two Scotland caps up to now.
If he replicates his club form in Shkoder on Saturday, he could well force a claim for a regular first-team spot.
Stuart Armstrong (CM, Southampton)
The Saints midfielder has had a bit more Scotland gametime than his former Celtic teammate Mackay-Steven. But he’s still only started three of the national team’s last 11 games – and his haul of caps is still in single figures.
Armstrong came on for Kevin McDonald at half-time in the reverse against Albania – and helped change the game. Goalless at the interval, he boosted the tempo in midfield as the hosts eventually ran out 2-0 winners.
One of the few bright spots in Southampton’s dismal Premier League campaign thus far, he’s also no stranger to the big occasion.
Scotland need a win in Albania, and could do far worse than a player who’s held his own against some of Europe’s top sides – including Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
McLeish’s side ran out deserved winners in their last meeting with Albania. The hosts have lost four of their last six home games, and it’s 11/8 for a Scottish win here.
Meanwhile, a repeat of that 2-0 scoreline in the visitors’ favour is available at 9/1.
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