France 4-1 Scotland: What have Steve Clarke’s side learned from world-class tests?

17 October 2023 0 By Total Football News

‘Lots to learn’ for Clarke after France defeat

“Lots to learn… but these games will make us better if we learn the lessons and apply them.”

Even after a sensational Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, Scotland head coach Steve Clarke is looking for his side to take the next step.

Friendlies against England and France, which bookended last week’s qualifier away to Spain, were arranged to test his players against the best.

Three defeats have followed, which means the Scots are now on their worst losing run since 2019, but there is plenty to be encouraged by and even more to work on.

“We came here to learn,” Clarke added after the 4-1 loss with a much-changed side to the French in Lille. “With possession I thought we had good moments in the game, but we didn’t carry enough the final third of the pitch.

“It would’ve been easy to take an easier game. We know we’re not that level, but we’re trying to improve.”

‘Tough but worthwhile lessons’

It is difficult to be critical of a Scotland team who have booked their place in Germany next summer with a near-perfect qualifying campaign.

No play-offs. No penalty shootouts. Done and dusted with two games to spare. But any team and any coach will always have aspirations to improve, especially when they are already in a positive place.

While former captain Willie Miller feels Scotland were handed a “tough lesson” in Lille, he believes Clarke’s men will benefit from the experience when it comes to facing top-level opposition in Germany next summer.

“It was an exercise worth having,” Miller added on Sportsound. “When you get to playing against England and France, in particular, it’s no surprise their performances were of a much, much higher level.

“It’s a case of saying, if we can do well in the Euros and we are facing this quality of opposition – this is what we have to expect. Their game has to be lifted. They were well beaten. We’re not there yet against this top quality opposition.”

Is it realistic to think Scotland will ever get to that level, though? Probably not on a consistent basis, but what they can aspire to is being competitive against this calibre of opponent in one-off games.

Nine goals have been shipped across the three matches, with just two scored, but an average possession of almost 40% highlights Clarke’s men are having spells of territory – something he will be encouraged by and look to build on.

Did any fringe players stake a claim?

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A encounter with the World Cup runners-up is perhaps an unfair encounter to judge upon, but Clarke handing out opportunities to anyone outside his established, core group has been few and far between.

His eight changes in the line-up to face France perhaps reflected a tiring campaign so far, as well as the squad’s night of celebrations when qualification was confirmed on Sunday by Spain’s win in Norway.

While Lewis Ferguson struggled to replicate his stunning Serie A form in Lille, Clarke singled out the Bologna midfielder for his performance, saying he was “very good” alongside stand-in captain Scott McTominay and goalscorer Billy Gilmour.

Another to be highlighted by Clarke was Luton Town forward Jacob Brown, who came close to his first international goal on his seventh cap. “He was lively and looked a threat,” the head coach added.

Debuts were also given to goalkeepers Liam Kelly and Zander Clark, who were thrown into the deep end with 45 minutes each as they watched a combined four goals whizz past them.

But while Clarke will have taken plenty from this exercise, so too will the players, especially those who aren’t accustomed to the bright, dazzling lights of international football.

Tweaks and improvements will be required, but this Scotland squad shouldn’t fear the top table, given they will dining there next summer.

“This side have continually improved and evolved under Clarke,” ex-Scotland striker Steven Thompson said. “This is a good barometer for what will be required at the Euros.

“These three games have been valuable in showing us where we need to improve.”