Wales vs England: who’s better?

Wales are now ahead of England in FIFA’s rankings, but are they actually better than England?

The last time Wales triumphed over the English in international football was in 1984; a 1-0 win secured victory in the ‘British Championships’.

Unfortunately, for the Welsh, this victory, in the year of George Orwell’s fore-casted dystopian, didn’t signal an oppressive dominance over England. However, 31 years on, and the contemporary Welsh squad are blessed with similar talent; Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen as opposed to Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Neville Southall. Indeed, being a considerably larger nation, England continued to produce an excellent pool of talent that has maintained their position as a top European team, and ensured perpetual success against Wales.

The current English squad have superior individuals, granted, but their ability to play as a team has been a source for criticism. Whilst Wales fall short in high-calibre players, their team-spirit combined with their pronounced chemistry have produced astounding performances: a 1-0 win against Belgium, second in the world. Thus, there is rich terrain for speculation as to whether Wales could actually beat England.

Man v Man

Let’s start with specific man v man duels, concentrating on each team’s best players.

Ashley Williams v Wayne Rooney

Both captains of their respective countries, they’re each regarded as vital to the team’s success. The Manchester United man can, when on form, instil disabling fright into defenders. There is no doubting Rooney’s potential, yet it is transparent that something is detrimentally wrong with his game, currently. Williams, however, is enjoying yet another impressive start to the season, formidable in defence for both club and country. One would be hard-pressed to capture both of these players’ abundance of attributes succinctly.

Manchester United suffered defeat at the hands of Swansea before the international break; Rooney was, once more, ineffectual. His threat was nullified by the Welsh captain, Williams. It would be folly to conclude that Williams would win this duel from this basis, however. The last five meetings between the two clubs have resulted in four defeats for the Red Devils, with Rooney scoring just once. One cannot find a more credible alternative in predicting who would win a battle between the two, than on past experience; thus, one has to, much to the outrage of many English and Manchester United fans, say that Williams would win this duel, extinguishing this potential hazard.

Gareth Bale v Gary Cahill

Bale has been Wales’ talisman in qualification, scoring six goals and turning provider for two. His criticism in Madrid has had little consequence when he has pulled on the red jersey; as per Rooney and Williams, one won’t attempt to document his plethora of talents.

Gary Cahill was instrumental in Chelsea’s title winning season, forming an intimidating partnership with John Terry. Yet, his form has, like Rooney, suffered this year, exacerbated by Mourinho’s meddling. Saying this, Cahill has consistently performed well for England.

It would be a tough test for Los Blancos’ Bale, undoubtedly. If Bale was not able to break down the Israeli defence on Sunday, then one has to question whether he would be able to overcome Cahill.

A number of factors have to be included for this equation: Bale is faster, stronger and more skilful, yet Cahill is tactically attuned and would thus be savvy to Bale’s exploits. Ultimately, it comes down to the extra edge of determination, perseverance and ruthlessness that flows through Bale when he plays for his home country. Thus, Bale would win this duel.

Aaraon Ramsey vs James Milner

England are bereft of proven central-midfielders who can consistently perform at the expected level; granted, the likes of Barkley, Henderson and Carrick are players that can turn defence into attack, thread the gametogether and dictate the pace of the game, but they do not do so on a regular enough basis to warrant the acclaim they’ve received from the media, and fans alike. James Milner, although elegant footwork isn’t part of his portfolio, is probably England’s best option for such a role. Liverpool have done shrewd business to snap him up on a free.

Arsenal’s Ramsey adopts a different role under the guidance of Wenger; he is played out on the flank as part of a front three just behind striker. Although the Welshman has proven he can play in such a role, he is best deployed as a floating midfielder, coming from deep to collect the ball and initiate attack.

Ramsey possess superior passing, skill and creativity, whilst Milner offers strength, pace and an air of simplicity, which whilst connoting negativity, can sometime be necessary in maintaining possession. The separating factor boils down to match-winning quality; ask yourself whether Milner, if the game is at 0-0 can produce a piece of brilliance to win the game. Now do the same for Ramsey. There’s your answer.

Flaw

Whilst the winners of these three duels are all Welsh, that does not mean they have a better team; it was simply a comparison of each countries’ better players. It deduces, if anything, that Wales’ stand-out performers are better than England’s. It does not account for the rest of the team; granted, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling are unquestionably better than Hal Robson Kanu and Cotterill, for example. The aforementioned English players weren’t included as they have no produced consistently enough for their country to be considered their ‘better players’, despite their club-form.

Managers

Roy Hodgson or Chris Coleman?

Hodgson was a perverse appointment, and not what England needed, or currently need. His teams have all had played in the same slow, tedious fashion; such a policy does not suit England’s players. Their young squad needs to play at a fast, fearless pace: Sterling, Walcott, Chamberlain and Barkley are all players that would benefit from this system. Aside from this, England would play much more attractive football.

Coleman, alternatively, sets his team up to suit the players he has. His defensive approach is balanced by Wales’ ability to counter-attack with Bale, Ramsey and Kanu. Even Coleman’s appointment was scorned at, especially after his less-than-impressive start. Credit to the ex-Real Sociedad manager, he recognised where our weaknesses lay, and corrected them. Prone to conceding a depressing volume of goals, Coleman focussed on our defensive play; this has not been a fruitless endeavour as Wales have now gone five games without conceding a goal.

Consequently, Coleman is the better manager purely due to his understanding of the players at his disposal and how best he can effectively deploy them. Hodgson, sadly for English fans, has little comprehension.

Read more on how Coleman revitalized the Welsh side.

Support

The Cardiff City Stadium has become a cauldron of deafening noise; Wembley has become a bowl of subdued and jaded atmosphere. Perhaps this is simply because English fans expect their team to win, and thus feel no compulsion to aid their players, whereas the Welsh realise the vital importance of their contributions. Regardless of the reason, Wales’ fan generate a great deal more of noise, and thus atmosphere, manifesting into the clichéd twelfth man. However, if this game was to be played at a neutral venue with an equal number of fans, one would expect a raucous atmosphere from both parties, due to their rivalry. The Welsh would slightly edge it, however.

Match-day

How would the game actually play out?

Whilst Wales are developing a tendency to control games, utilising fluid passing, one would expect the lion’s share of possession to be England’s favour. Hodgson’s team are equipped with defenders who are used to playing out from the back and are comfortable doing so; yet, one cannot envisage England breaking down Wales’ drilled and discipline defence. Further to this, Wales possess a brilliant shot-stopping keeper in the form of Wayne Hennessey, even if England were to penetrate the Welsh defence.

Come a wonder-strike from England’s forwards, or an unstoppable free-kick, England would not score; they have little imagination going forward and are easy to predict. Wales’ biggest goal threat manifests in Gareth Bale, and one would expect Hodgson to create a game-plan to neutralise the Madrid man. England are strong at defending set-pieces and thus Wales would face decided difficulty in capitalising on a corner, or free-kick. Consequently, one has to draw the conclusion that the probable result would be 0-0, bar a wonder goal from Bale/Ramsey or one of England’s forwards, or indeed if Hodgson fatally fails to create a plan to stop Bale’s pace on the counter. Or maybe some magic…

Conclusion

There we have it then: they are, by consequence of the predicted results, just as good as each other. Despite the fact England boast superior individuals, their inability to work as a team and Hodgson’s erroneous method of play and Wales’ impressive team chemistry and discipline cancels out individual talent.

Combined XI

Hart; Clyne; Stones; Williams; Cahill; Shaw; Ramsey; Milner; Bale; Sterling; Rooney.

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