EURO 2020 comes a year late for football fans, but that has just meant the excitement has had longer to build. For Wales fans, the tournament’s excitement has turned to uncertainty. Ryan Giggs suspension means former Wales defender Rob Page is taking charge, and the career of talisman Gareth Bale is a major talking point in the media.
With the inclusion of Rubin Colwill the biggest shock of Wales selection, the 26 chosen to travel to the Euro’s has been largely devoid of drama. Will Vaulks staked his claim to making an appearance by his performances for Cardiff City, but his exclusion has been consistent with the squad selection since Giggs took over. Robson-Kanu, a fan favourite, also missed out. However, he suffered the ignominy of being sent home from the Wales camp after breaching Covid protocols in March 2021.
Youth and Experience
The Wales squad is one mixing experience with one of the steadiest streams of youth since I’ve been a fan. Eight players from the EURO 2016 legendary team return, while the rest of the squad is rounded out by a youthful side, reminiscent of the side that the likes of Bale, Gunter and Ramsey came through.
Wayne Hennesey, Danny Ward, Ben Davies, Chris Gunter, Aaron Ramsey, Jonny Williams, Joe Allen and Gareth Bale are the sole survivors from Chris Coleman’s team that reached the Euro 2016 semi finals.
The team for the 2020 edition line up in a similar formation to Coleman’s side. Rob Page utilises a 5-2-3 formation when in defence. However, when regaining possession, Neco Williams, who is likely to start at left back, tucks inside to make a midfield 3 with Allen and Ramsey. However, in the draw with Albania, “The Commadore” Norrington-Davies played more of a wing back role, while Neco took the right back spot usually nailed down by Connor Roberts.
Keep it on the deck
While a Wales side previously would have looked to hit the ball long and fast towards a target man like Keiffer Moore, of for the likes of Gareth Bale to run on to, Page’s Wales look to utilise the more technically gifted of the Welsh players.
Against France (prior to Neco Williams’ red card) Wales lined up with a front 3 of Bale, Wilson and Daniel James. Bale on the right wing was mirrored by James on the left, with Wilson unconventional in his false 9 role. Wilson drops deep to get involved with the play more, which allows James and Bale to cut inside on their stronger foot.
Wales look to get the ball forward quick, but they look to use short, quick passes to get up the forwards and to pass around the opposition players. They showed this in the match vs France, with Wilson dropping deep to link with Allen and Morrell in the midfield. Neco Williams pushed inside into the left of central midfield, forming a sort of midfield 4 with Bale and James threatening from wide and cutting inside. Roberts provided width on the right behind Bale, whilst Neco Williams allowing James to push forward freely as Gunter manned the left back spot.
This seemed to be working against France, with a number of chances for the Welsh front 3 were created. France tried to pass it behind the Wales back line, which worked a few times but Danny Ward played the game of his life, including saving a Karim Benzema penalty. There were issues with how easily France made their way in behind at times, but with Championship defenders versus the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, there was always going to be chances created.
Ramsey enters the fray
Against Albania, Wales lined up with a much different line-up. Due to wanting to give the whole squad match fitness before the Euro’s key players like Gareth Bale and Harry Wilson started on the bench, with a midfield 3 of Allen, Ramsey and Levitt and a front 2 of Tyler Roberts and David Brooks. Brooks and Roberts played very wide during the game, allowing Aaron Ramsey to take up a more advanced position in midfield. He wasn’t quite as far forward as Wilson in the opener, but he was more advanced than Levitt and Allen, and allowed him to control the game more.
Despite his red card against France, Neco Williams started the match again, this time at right back. He played much wider this time, with both wing backs bombing forward and providing the bulk of the width. Rhys Norrington-Davies, who I will forever refer to as the Commadore, played left wing back, not cutting inside like Neco the previous game. He bombed forward regularly, looking to pass to a midfielder or to Roberts on the overlap.
Against Albania, Wales dominated the ball but were lacking incisiveness in attack. Tyler Roberts lack of decision-making ability was evident, a number of times picking out the wrong ball for his partners in attack. His pressing ability was admirable, but an attacking player needs to be able to do more than run (See Hal Robson-Kanu Cruyff turning the fuck out of Belgiums defence). I have not watched him much for Leeds, but in every Wales game, Roberts has flattered to deceive and not had an effect on the game. I would not start him in the Euros, and only bring him on toward the end if legs are tired and we need some urgency in attack.
As an unashamed Wales, of course my guess is that we’ll win the EURO’s and Gareth Bale will dedicate it the memory of Zidane’s job. Ramsey will win the Balon d’or and Harry Wilson will celebrate by signing for Cardiff for free and agree that he doesn’t need to be paid money. Also Ryan Giggs will be sent down for assault and Rob Page will be knighted.
In actuality, I do believe Wales have the ability to progress from the group stage. Italy’s pragmatic approach and possession based game will be perfect for a counter attacking side like Wales to play against. Switzerland and Turkey are decent teams, but not ones that Wales don’t have the ability to beat on their day. It’s a similar style of group to 2016, which Wales won in the end, and I believe we can at least come second in this one.