THE international break has been part-rapturous, part-controversial and part-same old, same old depending on what hue your national jersey happens to be. Some scenarios, and in particular yet more Covid-19 outbreaks, continue to dominate the narrative lending a sour taste for some countries and not so much for others. Let’s be honest, thus far it’s been a successful week for Scotland and their players who have come through unscathed. Here’s a flavour of some of what we have learned...

Left foot forward

There have been discussions high up at the Scottish Football Association for some time about the types of players produced by the country’s youth programme as a whole. Notably there was concern at the lack of emerging centre-forwards off the conveyor built, a phenomenon explained by the trend away from more traditional tactical formations and the desire of young players to mould themselves as No.10s.

One such area there has been no such cause for alarm in is the development of left-footed players. In times past, the left-back role was often filled by a right-footed full back – Danny McGrain and Tom Boyd immediately spring to mind – whereas now, of course, Scotland have to shoehorn Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, two of the best left-backs in the Premier League, into the line-up. It’s a similar picture throughout the squad.

Against Slovakia on Sunday afternoon, Steve Clarke fielded eight left-footed players, took off one in Andy Considine, and replaced him with another in Leigh Griffiths. Robertson, of course, didn’t even feature raising the prospect that at some point in the near future Clarke could field an entire team of lefties.

Burst bubbles

It barely needs repeating but this international football lark is not great for stopping the spread of a highly contagious virus. For the second month in succession we witnessed the potential for repeat consequences when the Norway versus Israel friendly was postponed after members of the visitors’ squad tested positive for Covid-19.

The discovery put at risk team-mates who had mixed with the players prior to them being placed in isolation. It meant Nir Bitton and Hatem Elhamed, the two Israelis who missed three and four games respectively for Celtic last month after a similar outbreak, were exposed again, while two others from Neil Lennon’s squad – Norwegians Mo Elyounoussi and Kristoffer Ajer – might have run the risk of contracting the virus had the discovery not been made before the match had gone ahead. That’s not as far fetched as it seems. When the Republic of Ireland played Wales on Monday night, they did so without two players due to Covid. Yesterday, it was revealed Tottenham right-back Matt Doherty was an addition to the 16 Premier League players to have tested positive this week – a day after facing three of his Spurs clubmates. While Gareth Bale, Joe Rodon and Ben Davies subsequently tested negative, both scenarios demonstrate the mockery that international get togethers are currently making of club-controlled Covid bubbles. And that’s before we even mention that Scotland’s players face Israel tonight.

No, sir

Following on from everyone’s favourite Spanish disco anthem, Stefan Tarkovic, the Slovakia head coach, took the whole 80s retro thing to new lows with his Tinder-profile-come-alive shtick on the sidelines during Scotland’s visit to Trnava.

Bedecked in jeans, geometric sweater, grey cotton mix blazer and boating shoes, Tarkovic prowled the touchline with all the sophistication of a mannequin in a C&A window display. First it was Julian Nagelsmann, the RB Leipzig head coach, with his ill-fitting plaid suits, now this. A heavy sanction by UEFA – such as an overturned result and default 3-0 win for Scotland – must surely follow.

Familiar scenario

Ian Baraclough lasted just nine months as manager of Motherwell when he was appointed in December 2014. It took a play-off victory over Rangers at the end of that campaign to keep the Fir Park outfit in the top flight before a return of seven points in eight games ultimately did for the Englishman at the start of the following season.

Northern Ireland fans are fast finding out what Motherwell supporters knew a long time ago: Baraclough talks a good game but is less inclined to deliver it. In the seven matches since he took over from Michael O’Neill, he is yet to preside over a single victory. Three of those matches ended in draws and, while one of those took in the penalty shoot-out win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, another was the shoot-out failure against a Slovakia side that cost them a place at Euro 2020. For Northern Ireland supporters who wanted former St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright or Stephen Robinson, the current Motherwell one, as O’Neill’s replacement, it was hard to stomach.

Embarrassment of riches

There was a time when Gareth Southgate could seemingly do no wrong as England manager but it seems a while ago now. It might be argued that the 50-year-old is using the Nations League as an opportunity to work through his permutations in order to settle on his best side but his selections never appear coherent enough to give credit to that suggestion.

In Jack Grealish, he has a player that most international managers might seek to build a team around but his misuse of the Aston Villa midfielder has been a feature of a recent England run that has brought three wins, two defeats and a draw. Meanwhile, his latest faux pas was to employ Harry Kane as an outright No.9 in the 2-0 defeat by Belgium. It was as if the Tottenham striker’s blistering start to the season had been ignored entirely.

Kane is not the same physical specimen he once was. At Spurs, he has played as a No.10, dropping off to feed faster forwards and it has worked to great effect. In Leuven, he had Grealish and Mason Mount either side of him, while the fleet-footed Jadon Sancho sat on the bench. It was set up to fail from the outset so it was little surprise that it did.