In Focus: Why Clarke has Scot to start building around Billy the kid
Scotland needed stoppage time to see off Israel on Saturday — and Billy Gilmour played a pivotal role in securing the crucial 3-2 victory.
Andrew Robertson claimed two assists while Scott McTominay bundled home the last-gasp winner four minutes into time added at the end of the 90.
But it was Chelsea ace Gilmour, on loan for the season at Premier League strugglers Norwich, who impressed the most at Hampden Park.
As the second-placed Scots opened up a four-point gap over the chasing pack in World Cup qualifying Group F, a dominant display saw the 20-year-old midfielder enhance his fledgling reputation.
He may be on the periphery at Carrow Road so far this term but it appears to be time for Steve Clarke to build his team around Gilmour — starting with tonight's game against the Faroe Islands.
Against Israel, Gilmour was involved in everything.
In torrid conditions, the Chelsea starlet ran the show and attempted 81 passes — 23 more than anybody else that evening.
He also ranked first for ball recoveries with 10, showing he is just as effective defensively as offensively.
Few midfielders in the game are as well-rounded as Gilmour, who is a throwback to the box-to-box players that were more prevalent at the top level over a decade ago.
With such an influential star in their side, it makes perfect sense for Scotland to shape the team around him.
Game respects game
If there is something Roy Keane knows about, it is midfielders.
The Manchester United legend heaped praise on Gilmour in March 2020 after he burst onto the scene with a stunning display for Chelsea against Everton.
He said: "There are certain traits you want from a midfielder. You obviously want them to have quality on the ball, football intelligence, composure. He [Gilmour] had everything.
"It was one of the best performances I've seen in a long, long time. The downside for the kid now is that he has to back it up.
"His general play and the way the game started [made me stand up]. He looked like a world-class player."
A balancing act
Scotland’s 3-5-2 shape falls apart if there is not balance to the midfield.
It is the area where games are decided.
With John McGinn so eager to get forward and support the attack, it can sometimes mean Scotland are light in the middle third.
As evidenced in the graphic above, Gilmour did a convincing job covering for the Aston Villa man against the Israelis.
The youngster has the positional awareness and the discipline to occupy key areas, making him an invaluable asset to Clarke if he wants to continue using this system.
At international level, better teams can sometimes have a lot of sterile possession.
The opposition tend to stand off them and look to clog up the middle third, in what could be described as a damage limitation tactic.
Teams then end up keeping the ball for the sake of it — but Gilmour simply does not allow this to happen.
As his pass map shows, a lot of his passes are over long distances. He is forever trying to move the opposition around the pitch and he does this via his range of distribution.
He might not play 60-yard cross-field balls — but he does not have to.
A 10-yard pass, as opposed to a simple short one, is sufficient to change the shape of the opposition and open up space for his team-mates.
Right place, wrong time
Norwich play football the right way.
Daniel Farke is committed to playing out from the back, using the ball well and being brave in possession.
On paper, he is the perfect manager for a player like Gilmour.
But Norwich are once again in transition.
Back in the top flight, they are having to adapt to facing better teams and superior players while seeing less of the ball.
It has meant Gilmour's minutes with the Canaries have been limited — through no fault of his own.
It would be harsh to judge him on what is happening at club level, at least not when he is bossing things for Scotland.
On the international front, the Irvine-born dynamo looks set to be the heartbeat of Clarke’s outfit for years to come.