FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia – tactical analysis

FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia - tactical analysis - tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

Russia came back from a goal down at Hampden Park to take a crucial three points from Scotland in group I of the FIFA Euro qualifiers. Scotland started brightly taking the lead ten minutes in, but Russia came back to secure a huge victory in their push for Euro qualification. In this tactical analysis, we will look into how the Russians managed the comeback.


Scotland lined-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Leeds United captain, Liam Cooper making his long-overdue debut at centre-half. Champions League winner Andy Robertson, of course, captained the Scots from left-back. Manchester United’s McTominay played just ahead of the Scotland centre-halves, with John McGinn and Callum McGregor completing central midfield. Bournemouth star, Ryan Fraser started on the wing while Celtic’s James Forrest started on the other side, with £20 million man Oli McBurnie started up top.

FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia - tactical analysis tactics
Scotland vs Russia – team sheet

Russia came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Semenov and Dzhilkiya partnering in central defence. Mario Fernandes and Kudryashov occupied the full-back positions while Zobnin manned the midfield alongside Ozdoev. Monaco’s Golovin slotted in at number 10, who played in-behind Dzyuba at striker.

Long-ball football not the answer

Scotland started the game so brightly – the opening 15 minutes were full of pace, aggression and creative promise for the home side. Robertson and O’Donnell pushed high to have Russia camped in their own half, with Fraser and Forrest attacking the channels to overload the Russia penalty area. Meanwhile, McTominay had started well, screening the back-line and picking up possession to circulate back to the full-backs who would begin the forward movement for the Scots.

However, as the match passed the fifteen-minute mark, Russia began to gain spells of possession that had Scotland pushed backwards. Scotland were unable to expand themselves in possession as Russia had been able to escape their entrapment in the penalty area and were able to cut off each third of the pitch.

As we can see below, McBurnie is given little room to move around for the cross, while Russia leave two players available in the middle of the block to pressurise the ball and cover deep runners. From these positions, Russia organised themselves to be able to expand their formation upon winning the ball back for the counter.

FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia - tactical analysis tactics
McBurnie and Forrest are isolated while Russia look to cut off winger from the short option

This seemed to be the trend for Scotland and McBurnie, as they altered their tactics following this change in the game. Russia organised their defensive shape to expand further up the field, and it became far more difficult for Scotland to reach the Sheffield United man. As shown below, when Scotland possession came in the wide areas, Russia put themselves in a shape that enables them to cover any attackers in the middle to cut them off from the ball, forcing a backward pass.

The out-of-shot right-back can cover the inside or the oncoming Robertson on the left. Meanwhile, there are four blue jerseys behind the ball, with three of them in very static positions, especially for a team who needs a comeback to keep their group campaign alive. This seemed to be the story for Scotland, there were not enough bodies getting amongst the Russia block, moving players around and creating space in and around the penalty area.

FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia - tactical analysis tactics
Once again, Russia’s block traps McBurnie and a Scotland midfielder, who is unlikely to find enough space to receive a pass. A spare man is left who can slot into the block or man-mark outside

Outside the final third, Scotland reverted to long-ball football as characterised by Craig Levein’s tenure as Scotland boss. Long punts up the field caused little to no problems for the Russians, whose aerial dominance over McBurnie allowed them to make light work of winning back possession.

Oli McBurnie struggled to compete, winning just 16 out of 47 duels, while winning just eight aerial duels from a possible 25. Young McBurnie struggled to get the ball out of his feet too, completing just 12 passes– just half of his match average of 24 per match. Had Scotland continued their fast football played ‘on the deck’ then this game might’ve turned out very differently for the Scots.

Russia’s control

Following a bright start from Scotland, Russia built themselves into the match. Possession pushed the Scots back, allowing for Russia to put their stamp on the game by dragging Scotland’s midfield away from Golovin in the centre, who was able to cause havoc for the Scotland back-line.

As we can see below, Russia look to recycle possession, with Scotland’s striker, winger and central midfielder looking to cut Zobnin off from his teammates. However, the cage that they put up is not tight enough to have any chance of winning the ball. Therefore, the three have been dragged out of position and haven’t done enough to minimise the risk of the resulting space being exploited.

FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia - tactical analysis tactics
Scotland’s loose cage makes it easy for Zobnin to dip possession in and out, creating more room for Russia to attack in

This leaves two central midfielders and the winger on the far-side to cover several options all over the pitch. The back-line can, therefore, push high up to support and leave a gap behind them or drop deep and hope for the midfield to recover. Either way, Scotland’s midfield is far too easy to bypass, exposing the back-line. This brings us onto the final piece of analysis.

Golovin the star man

FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia - tactical analysis tactics
Russia bypass the Scotland press, and options all over the pitch open up for the away side

Russia’s Golovin was able to exploit these areas in excellent fashion. However, it was too easy for the Russians to exploit a Scotland setup lacking in aggression to close the ball down. Another Scotland cage was far too loose once again, Russia’s striker dragged Mulgrew away from the cage, leaving space in-behind for Golovin to attack. Meanwhile, O’Donnell has to race back to cover his man.

FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia - tactical analysis tactics
Another loose cage leaves several options open for Russia to attack the Scotland defence

Scott McTominay is completely static, while McGregor is not in the position to put any pressure on the ball. Golovin’s pace is too much for the Scotland defence. Meanwhile, there is plenty of room on the far side for Golovin to cross into, with O’Donnell unable to clear his lines, as the ball ended up in his own net.

FIFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Scotland vs Russia - tactical analysis tactics
McTominay is static, while McGregor is out of the game. Golovin runs through with all the time in the world


This was a must-win game for Scotland in their bid to qualify from the group stage. Scotland are now six points behind Russia and one point behind Kazahstan, and a win against Belgium is the only way that Scotland can keep their campaign alive. The Scots had started so brightly, putting Russia under the cosh for the first 15 minutes, but once Russia were able to escape, Scotland were far too easy to exploit, committing numbers in the press but without enough aggression. Russia will now be favourites to take second spot in Group I.

Artwork by @chapulana

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