Andy Robertson and the National Team Dilemma

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After helping Liverpool salvage a lost season in 2020/21, Andy Robertson was part of a Scottish European Championship squad at its first major tournament for 23 years. Considered by many pundits to be one of the best left-backs in the world of football, for the national side Robertson plays further forward, a change made by Steve Clarke to accommodate Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney at the back.

Of course, it’s inevitable that in a squad in dire need of options in several positions – striker, attacking midfield, the entire right flank – Steve Clarke can call on two players of true European quality, and they both play the same position. Expectations were low at the start of the tournament, while local rivals and group opponents England are priced at 11/2 in the Euro 2021 bettingEuro 2021 betting to win the tournament. Hampered by injury concerns, Clarke is not the first national manager to be forced into creative solutions at major tournaments.

At Euro 2021 alone, a trend could be seen of talented players pushed further forward to allow them to be more influential on the national level. Oleksandr Zinchenko, primarily a left-back for Premier League champions Manchester City, often plays deep in the heart of midfield for Ukraine, while new Real Madrid signing David Alaba performs a similar role for his native Austria. Even Leeds United’s defensive-minded midfielder Kalvin Phillips was deployed in a more advanced role by Gareth Southgate for England. These potentially game-changing players are sometimes seen as ‘too good’ to play their original positions, especially when there is no natural replacement further up the pitch.

But for Scotland, Robertson further forward is a necessary move, rather than purely tactical. Finding space for both Robertson and Tierney evokes the struggles of legendary national managers past. The Argentina side of the 2010s tried to cram Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala into one forward line, while having no-one to call on at the defensive end. The England side of the 2000s, meanwhile, tried at length to fit Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard into the same eleven for years, to no success. Finding ways to deploy multiple world-class players in a flexible system is part of a national manager’s job.

At Home & Abroad

It’s no surprise, then, to see Robertson adapt to a role as a left-sided midfielder under Clarke. As part of Jurgen Klopp’s high-energy Liverpool side, Robertson is encouraged to bombard forward anyway, joining the attack alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold on the opposite flank. Playing near the box and delivering crosses is part of what makes Robertson so dangerous, such a nightmare to defend – for Scotland, he is their main source of danger.

Robertson comes off a strong domestic season in which he started every league game for Liverpool. In the absence of the Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez through long-term injuries, Robertson was ever-present as Liverpool managed to secure Champions League football on the final day of the season. A much-vaunted Premier League title defence, however, stalled mid-season during a run of six straight defeats at Anfield. Their quest to return to the Champions League final also failed with defeat by Real Madrid at the quarter-final stage.

The 27-year-old will be a key figure as Liverpool look to recover after a disappointing title defence. He will also be hoping that this is the start of a promising new era for the national team.