Scotland have a seemingly endless supply of quality left-backs and left wingers to pick from. However, when it comes to the right side of defence – or indeed midfield – Alex McLeish is a little limited in what he can do.
Callum Paterson, the former Hearts right-back, has since moved to Cardiff City and reimagined himself as a galavanting box-to-box midfielder through the middle of the pitch, leaving McLeish with the sole option of Kilmarnock defender Stephen O’Donnell.
Indeed, if Scotland are to even things up across both flanks McLeish may need to get a little imaginative in who he picks to guard the right side of his team. Fortunately, there’s a player who has been doing exactly that for Celtic over the past two seasons: James Forrest.
Once considered no more than a one-trick pony who often ran at speed down dead ends on the pitch, Forrest has evolved under Brendan Rodgers into a modern, wide forward.
And at key moments in Celtic’s domestic and European campaigns, the Scotland international has also effectively played as a wing back too.
At times Rodgers has deployed the 27-year-old as something akin to a defensive winger, while full-back Mikael Lustig has slotted in as a third central defender in key, European ties. Naturally, that has then allowed Celtic to play with exceptional width, with Forrest bombing up and down the right wing and Tierney doing something similar on the left. This was most recently the case in Celtic’s 1-0 win over Rangers on Sunday.
As McLeish may have noticed himself, this is a system that could work perfectly well for Scotland too. The former Rangers manager may opt to play Robertson as the left wing-back and move Tierney inside as a central defender, but any variation of the 3-5-2 formation could utilise Forrest’s athleticism and positioning to cover the right flank defensively while providing the same width that Scotland’s exciting left flank has in abundance.
Of course, Forrest isn’t just a makeshift defender willing to slot in where he’s asked. The Celtic player is also a bonafide attacking talent that could also bring a much-needed degree of experience and determination to a front line that is still trying to find its shape.
Indeed, McLeish’s current squad takes on a familiarly lopsided look when we look at the wide, attacking players he has available. Assuming the Scotland manager doesn’t wedge Robertson in at left wing – which he may do – he then has Ryan Fraser or Callum McGregor to turn to, but not a whole lot else on the right wing aside from the somewhat inconsistent Robert Snodgrass or the untested Johnny Russell from MLS side Sporting Kansas City.
So while McLeish has three, proven players on his left flank, Forrest seems to be the only player within this current squad that can offer any degree of stability and consistency on the right. At least until Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie decides he can be bothered playing for Scotland gain.
Last season the winger picked up 17 goals and 10 assists for Brendan Rodgers’ side and has continued that impressive return this time around as well, with two goals and six assists in just 12 games for the Scottish champions since the start of the current season.
This was all done while winning trophies for Celtic and playing at the very highest level in the Champions League against teams like Bayern Munich and PSG. An impressive return that no other right-sided winger or wide forward in this Scotland team can possibly come close.
This Scotland team is littered with current and former Celtic players, but while everyone is getting excited about Tierney, McGregor or Stuart Armstrong it’s worth bearing in mind just how important Forrest could be to Scotland’s right flank for the foreseeable future. If McLeish can utilise him as Rodgers does for Celtic, Forrest could be vital to the tactics and systems that Scotland will hope to use in qualifying for Euro 2020