Scotland v Lithuania: What issues face Gordon Strachan ahead of World Cup qualifier?

By Bryn PalmerBBC Scotland Sport
Gordon Strachan looks on as Scotland beat Malta 5-1
Gordon Strachan has a settled squad as he approaches a vital double-header this week
Scotland v Lithuania
Venue: Hampden Park Date: Saturday, 8 October Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland, BBC 5 live, BBC Sport website & app

As Gordon Strachan reconvenes his squad for World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Slovakia over the next eight days, familiar frustrations for the Scotland manager are tempered by more positive bulletins on several players.

If centre-back Grant Hanley's relative inactivity for Newcastle remains a concern, at least all 11 players who started the 5-1 win in Malta last month played some part for their clubs this weekend.

Admittedly, Hanley's was a minor one - a substitute for the last three minutes of the Magpies' 1-0 win at Rotherham.

And though Oliver Burke and Matt Ritchie - two of Scotland's more enterprising players - were restricted to substitute roles for RB Leipzig and Newcastle respectively, their relative freshness may be of benefit in the coming days with an away day in Slovakia next Tuesday following Saturday's visit of Lithuania to Hampden Park.

So what are the main selection issues for Strachan this week?

Who's going to start up front?

Strachan surprised many by starting Chris Martin up front in Malta, and the striker did score his second goal for his country in his ninth international.

But the 27-year-old is still waiting to get off the mark at club level this season.

After six scoreless outings for Derby, his sixth game for Fulham since his loan move on 31 August drew another blank on Saturday.

Martin stumbled in front of an open goal in the west Londoners' 2-1 derby defeat by QPR, before being taken off after 56 minutes.

Chris Martin contests a ball for Fulham against QPR
Chris Martin (right) has yet to score in 12 club games this season

But at least he is getting a game.

Steven Naismith might have scored in his one outing for Norwich over the past five weeks - against his old club Everton in the EFL Cup - but he hasn't featured in any of the Canaries' past six Championship matches.

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths started this season - seven goals in nine games - the way he finished last, when Scotland's leading scorer racked up 40.

But the prolific striker has had to make do with three cameo outings - and one goal - as a substitute since returning from a hamstring injury a fortnight ago, such has been the sparkling form of French forward Moussa Dembele.

Will Strachan revert to Steven Fletcher again?

The 29-year-old didn't have a goal to his name this season before the Malta match, but his substitute's strike in the 5-1 win has sparked a run of three goals in six games since for new club Sheffield Wednesday, though he couldn't prevent the Owls losing 2-1 at home to Brighton on Saturday.

Who should play at full-back?

With Aston Villa's Alan Hutton having withdrawn from the squad , Hearts' Callum Paterson is the only recognised right-back in the squad. Strachan handed him the number two jersey for the game against Malta and looks odds-on to do so again.

Paterson scored with a thumping strike - with his left foot - in Hearts' 3-1 win at Motherwell on Friday, his third goal of an impressive campaign.

Andrew Robertson enjoyed a productive outing in Malta and is the man in possession at left-back, although he was partially at fault for Chelsea's opener in Hull's 2-0 defeat on Saturday.

If Strachan is minded to make a change, then he knows Celtic's Kieran Tierney remains in superb form.

The 19-year-old's ability to get to the byline and produce composed crosses and cut-backs has been a feature of Celtic's attacking prowess.

Last week's Champions League tussle with Manchester City was his 50th senior game already, amid reports Bayern Munich are keeping tabs on him.

In central defence, Russell Martin has now started Norwich City's last six English Championship games, after going into the Malta match with only one club outing behind him.

But Hanley - his regular partner for Scotland - remains short of game time.

His only start in the past month for Newcastle came against Wolves in the EFL Cup on 20 September, but although Christophe Berra (Ipswich) and Gordon Greer (Blackburn) remain regular starters for their clubs, Strachan may be reluctant to change his central axis.

Grant Hanley contests a ball for Newcastle against Wolves in the EFL Cup
Hanley's only start for Newcastle since the Malta game was against Wolves in the EFL Cup

Keepers keeping busy

Strachan will be relieved to see two of his frontline goalkeepers - in the continued injury-enforced absence of Allan McGregor - back playing regularly for their clubs.

Craig Gordon's first-choice status at Celtic appeared in doubt after Brendan Rodgers chose new signing Dorus de Vries to start four consecutive Scottish Premiership games and their Champions League group opener in Barcelona.

But the Dutchman went off at half-time with a chest injury against Kilmarnock two weeks ago and despite De Vries returning to fitness, Gordon has retained his place for the past two matches, excelling in the 3-3 draw with Manchester City and keeping a clean sheet in Saturday's win at Dundee.

Meanwhile David Marshall, likely to keep his place against Lithuania, remains a busy man after his move to Hull from Cardiff.

After conceding five at Liverpool the previous week, Marshall had little chance with the strikes from Willian and Diego Costa that saw City beaten 2-0 by Chelsea.

Room for manoeuvre in midfield?

Barry Bannan proved an effective central midfield partner for captain Darren Fletcher in Malta, and has featured in all Sheffield Wednesday's matches since.

James McArthur may come into contention for a start after some eye-catching performances for Crystal Palace of late, but Shaun Maloney (Hull) and James Morrison (West Brom) remain on the bench for their clubs.

With Robert Snodgrass an automatic pick after his hat-trick in Malta, and Ritchie also impressing in the opening qualifier, Strachan's main debate may be whether to tinker with the wide positions in his favoured formation.

James Forrest celebrates scoring for Celtic against Kilmarnock
James Forrest has scored five goals for Celtic this season, and came on as a substitute in Malta

Ikechi Anya has played six games for Derby in the past month since leaving Watford, including 90 minutes at Reading on Saturday.

Meanwhile James Forrest, a Strachan favourite, continues to look a revitalised figure for Celtic under Brendan Rodgers.

A start for Anya or Forrest would probably mean demotion for Oliver Burke though.

The 19-year-old was only granted three minutes as a late substitute as RB Leipzig beat Augsburg 2-1 to become the first promoted team to remain undefeated in their first six Bundesliga games.

After scoring on his first start the previous week, that may have been a frustration for the teenage winger.

How Strachan utilises Scotland's young attacking hope over the forthcoming double-header will be interesting to gauge.