Playing England and beating them is Scotland’s biggest game at the moment, says Soccer Saturday pundit Charlie Nicholas.
The two British countries meet on Saturday in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier at Hampden Park, live on Sky Sports, with England winning the reverse fixture 3-0 in November.
The former Scotland international believes that the game itself and a victory would be massive for his national team at the moment when qualification for Russia next year looks slim, but they may need to battle against a hostile home crowd.
“It’s enormous because, in my opinion we won’t qualify, and the players probably know that, so from there you’re looking to salvage a bit of pride, and the best thing to do that would be beating England,” Nicholas said.
“A draw would make some happy but I’m not sure even that would keep Strachan in his job because the fans have turned.
“Scotland have learnt to accept their role and beating England is the biggest game until we get back in a position to compete for qualifying again.
“For that reason, this is probably the biggest game since playing Holland in the Euro 2004 play-offs, when he won 1-0 before getting hammered 6-0.
“The early vocal support will be intimidating but if the team aren’t getting mush possession then it will understandably lessen.
“Scotland are at their best as the underdogs, but if they can’t get on the ball then the crowd will get on their backs because of previous failures.
“The crowd know it is a must-win and they will be well up for it but this England team are used to it and they’ll feed off any frustrations, so it can go both ways.”
With Nicholas clear that Scotland need to beat their fierce rivals, he also gave an insight into what Strachan needs to do to beat England on Saturday.
“I think, given the problems Scotland have with zero pace at centre-back and issues at right-back, that Gordon Strachan has to go with a back five,” he added.
“Then I think it’s essential to have Scott Brown and Darren Fletcher in as holding midfielders to help out with stopping Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana from seeing much of the ball, then you’re relying on your three remaining players to be creative.
“You can get at England’s defence if we can get Robert Snodgrass and Craig Armstrong in the game.
“Snodgrass is a player I like because he’s creative but he’s gone to West Ham and hardly played a game, so that suggests something isn’t quite happening for him right now, whereas Armstrong has the movement to run off a striker.
“Scotland haven’t really got a forward that can really hurt England though, with Steven Naismith struggling at Norwich while Leigh Griffiths can’t really link up play as a lone striker. Then you’ve got Chris Martin who got booed when he came on before scoring the winner against Slovenia.”
England also came in for some pre-match critique from the Soccer Saturday pundit, who believes Gareth Southgate was right to leave Wayne Rooney out of the squad.
“I think Southgate’s got to get an identity to the team. Harry Kane and Alli are a natural partnership so you’ve already got their space, movement and goals,” Nicholas said.
“He’s still trying to work out his best centre-back pairing. He’ll want to give John Stones the chance but has he earned the right? Probably not.
“It’s not so much a formation because that is flexible, but their style of play. Are they a passing team for a fast direct side? There’s a danger they can be a 70% possession cautious team.
“They must get more out of Raheem Sterling, which Man City have struggled with, but if Southgate can then it becomes a fast attacking team.
“He’s right to leave Rooney out. He’s made that big decision so he’s taking control and he’s inherited an excited opportunity, so the foundations are in place.”