How Would an SPL All-Star Team Fare in England?
The SPL has always had to put up with living in the shadow of its more illustrious neighbour from down south.
While the Premiership has gained in notoriety and grown exponentially as a global power, football in Scotland has faced financial crisis after financial crisis, and time and time again the league has seen its best players move to England in order to further their careers.
We've heard countless times English managers and pundits deriding the standard of football in Scotland, but worse still, so many fans of football up here are just as quick to criticise our game, whether it's through embarrassment, disappointment or simply because they've been blinded by the bright lights of the English Premier League.
Regardless, the question has always been raised: How would a team made up of the best players in the SPL fare if they were to compete in England's top flight?
Would the difference in class show, or would there be a surprise or two in store for those English pundits who are so dismissive about a league they know next to nothing about?
It's fantasy football, but with national pride at stake.
(In picking the team itself, it was difficult not just to go with Celtic players. They're by far the best side, they've proven in the Champions League that they're capable of competing with the very best in Europe, and so, for the sake of fairness, I've decided to completely eschew any ideas of equality—players will be judged on merit, and only the very best will make it into the side.)
The Formation: 4-4-2
First up: the formation. It's all very well going with whatever formation you like when it comes to fantasy football, but here the tactics would be particularly important, and it's no good just going with a formation in order to fit players in.
4-4-2 doesn't hold quite the same position as it used to in English football, with many teams now favouring a different approach and often opting to play with just the one up front, and two holding players in the middle of the park.
That said, it's still a formation that has its place, and it would be the best way to maximise the ability of this group of players.
The full-backs and the wide midfielders would allow them to overload when going forward, but equally allow them to sit back and close down if the opposition had the upper hand.
Both midfielders in this side are all-round players—neither defensive midfielders or attacking—and with the energy levels and the work rate they possess, they would fit perfectly as the central two in a 4-4-2.
In attack, both of these strikers have shown they excel with a strike partner to link up with and make runs off of, but that they can struggle on their own, and so going with the two strikers is the only logical option.
Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster
Choosing the goalkeeper is as easy a decision as you'll have to make.
Fraser Forster is streets ahead of any other goalkeeper in the SPL, and has proven this season in the Champions League that he's one of the finest up-and-coming young keepers in Europe.
He would start for the vast majority of the teams in the Premiership, and it's one area where an SPL All-Star XI would have an advantage over the opposition. Do we just understand goalkeepers better up here?
Defence: Ambrose, Webster, Mulgrew, Izaguirre
In defence, I've gone for a back four of Efe Ambrose, Charlie Mulgrew, Andy Webster and Emilio Izaguirre.
The full-backs would give them a lot of pace going forward, and would mean they could move into attack quickly, but both Izaguirre and Ambrose are solid defensively, and Ambrose would be useful for both attacking and defending set pieces.
In the EPL, you really need centre-backs capable of winning the ball in the air and coping with the physicality of the league, and Webster and Mulgrew would have no problem fitting in.
The style of play is in many ways quite similar in both leagues, and they'd be no stranger to the rougher side of the game.
Central Midfield: Wanyama and Ledley
Centrally, Victor Wanyama is a player good enough to get into any starting XI in the EPL and his style of play—powerful, athletic, intelligent and hard working—would mean he would fit perfectly.
Alongside him Joe Ledley would provide a box-to-box presence, capable of getting forward and being the extra man in attack, but also of helping his side defensively.
His ability to arrive late in the area would be a further asset, especially with so many players capable of getting a good delivery into the area, and for that reason I've gone with him ahead of Scott Brown.
Wingers: Mackay-Steven and McGinn
Many EPL sides today play with out-and-out wingers, and this team would be no different.
The ability of these two to run at defenders and put crosses into the box, aided by the full-backs coming up on the overlap, would mean they'd be able to put sides under serious pressure down the flanks.
Gary Mackay-Steven would be a handful for any defender with the sort of skill he has at his disposal, and although Niall McGinn has played as a striker this season for Aberdeen, he has all the necessary talent to play out wide.
Strikers: Hooper and Russell
Up front, Gary Hooper and Johnny Russell have all the qualities which would make them deadly strikers in the EPL—great movement, pace and an eye for goal—and there's no reason why they wouldn't be able to translate their form from the SPL when put up against English opposition.
Many sides in the EPL employ quite a high defensive line, and these two would revel in the space in behind the defence that this would open up for them.
The only question might be their size, as they aren't exactly the biggest, but you feel that their other attributes would be enough to compensate for any lack of height.
So How Would They Get On?
Obviously a challenge for the title is out of the question, and realistically they would lack the talent to really properly compete for a place in the top four over the course of the season.
A top-half finish though?
I really don't see why not.
When you look at some of the teams in and around the middle of the table in the EPL, teams such as Swansea, Norwich, Stoke and Fulham, and you compare them to this side, there's no reason to suggest why they wouldn't be able to do as well, or better.
West Brom currently side in seventh place in the table, and while they're a reasonable side, it's not unrealistic to suggest that this side would be able to get as high as that. Remember, this is just the starting XI: they'd be able to call on players like Samaras, Kayal, Brown, Griffiths, Shinnie, Wilson, Commons and Matthews off the bench.
So what do you reckon? Am I right in thinking an SPL All Star team would do so well in the English Premier League or am I being unrealistic? Either way, I'd love to hear what you think.