Wales struggled with the pace of Switzerland's Breel Embolo in their Saturday opener
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Wales showed their collective spirit and defensive determination on Saturday, when they battled to a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening match of Euro 2020. Rob Page’s side rode their luck at times, though, and they will need to be far more defensively solid in Wednesday’s meeting with Turkey in Baku.
Composure in possession
In sweltering conditions, Wales spent much of Saturday’s game without the ball. It was exhausting for the players, many of whom appeared to be totally spent in the final few minutes. With the help of goalkeeper Danny Ward, Wales were able to cling onto a point, but such an approach is unlikely to be sustainable against Turkey and Italy.
So much of this side’s recent success has been built on their togetherness as a group and their willingness to put their bodies on the line. “As a team, we pride ourselves on working hard and going through that grind of not conceding goals,” said centre-back Joe Rodon.
This fighting spirit is perhaps their greatest strength, although the defenders cannot spend all 90 minutes camped out on the edge of their penalty box. Wales must be able to move up the pitch and control the flow of the game more effectively than they did against Switzerland, who enjoyed 65 per cent of possession.
Wales' Joe Rodon says the side prides itself on not conceding any goals
To spend so long without the ball, in such ferocious heat, will drain the energy from even the fittest players. The likes of Joe Morrell, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey therefore need to be able to take control and slow down the game at the right times. Wales had promising moments in attack on Saturday, with Morrell doing well to create Kieffer Moore’s equaliser, but there were very few periods of dominance.
Would a back three provide more security?
For Wales, the most troubling sight of the weekend was Breel Embolo running through the heart of their defence. The Switzerland striker appeared untouchable in the second half, charging past Rodon and Chris Mepham at will. As a defensive duo, they were exposed too often.
A potential solution would be to revert to a back three in defence. It is a system that Wales are familiar with, and one which they used in their previous three matches before this tournament. Usually, Page prefers to deploy this shape with a “false nine” instead of Moore, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility for the target man to play in a side that also features three central defenders.
“As a team we have got to be comfortable playing in both systems,” said Rodon. “With an extra defender at the back you will feel a bit more secure and safe, but what is more important is that we have got the extra players up the pitch trying to score goals.”
If Page did select a back three, it would likely result in left-back Ben Davies playing in a more withdrawn role alongside Rodon and Mepham. Alternatively, Ethan Ampadu could come into the side. Wing-back Neco Williams would be the most likely candidate to take the place of one of the midfielders.
Force the opposition back
With Allen focused on man-marking Xherdan Shaqiri and the defenders clearly petrified of Embolo’s pace, Wales were regularly forced to retreat deep into their own half against Switzerland. Moore was too isolated in attack at times, and that meant he was unable to bring Ramsey and Gareth Bale into the game.
Wales have to get Gareth Bale into the game more
Bale, in particular, was disappointingly quiet. If he can receive the ball in dangerous areas, moving closer to Moore, Turkey’s defenders will have to sit back. They would be foolish not to, as Bale has the vision and the quality to find the electric Daniel James on the left flank. The same can be said of Ramsey, who spent more time chasing back on Saturday than he did pushing forward.
There is little point having players like Bale, Ramsey and James in the team if they cannot be involved in the game. James was the brightest of the trio on Saturday but, even then, there were long spells when the deep-lying Wales defenders and midfielders were unable to work the ball to him up the pitch.
The power of Moore in the air gives Wales the opportunity to push higher, but he will need more players around him if they are to make the most of his strength.