Written for Inside Cardiff City, I dissect Wales’ performance, looking at five specific things that Coleman would have learnt.
Friendlies, for Welsh fans, have often seemed pointless; invariably they were only of use to opposition teams who were assessing their options ahead of a major tournament, with Welsh players playing for nothing. However, this time around, players are desperately fighting for a ticket come June when the Welsh contingent board a plane to France. Despite a somewhat underwhelming result against a Northern Ireland team who would have been dispatched quite easily had Wales played their strongest team, there was a lot to learn from Thursday night’s game.
Pass. Pass. Pass.
Wales, as has been recognised, like to play the ball out from the back; a tactic warmly received by fans used to seeing the ball lumped forward. Yet, for all the pretty passing in their own half, there needed to be a connection with the midfield, and then to the strikers. Against Northern Ireland, no such relationship existed. Granted, the interplay between the deep lying central midfielders, David Vaughan and Joe Ledley, and the back four was pleasing on the eye, but apart from building the possession stats, it didn’t do an awful lot for Chris Coleman’s men. Indeed, Wales had only a total of two shots on target. Aaron Ramsey, who performs the function of transfer the ball from defence to attack, was missing tonight, but someone needed to step up and take his place. It wasn’t until Joe Allen came on that this vacant role was adopted. Tom Lawrence, playing in a no.10 role, shied away from the ball too much, reluctant to receive the ball and turn with it. In fairness, the on-loan Cardiff player, normally plays his trade on the wing and was thus in unfamiliar territory.
Joe Allen, a cut above
Coming on in the 71st minute, the Liverpool man made a huge difference. He took on the responsibility of taking the ball and moving it forward. Quicker, sharper and more direct, it was clear to all that Allen should be starting come June 11th against Slovakia. Some might say he stood out because of a tiring opposition, but that would be ignoring Allen’s intelligence, both on the ball and off it. Whilst, perhaps, this is not an entirely new commentary, it was necessary that Allen performed well when he came on to remind those who began to doubt his ability: out-of-favour under Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, Allen has rarely had the opportunity to prove his quality.
No Bale, no threat…
Wales are often criticised for relying too heavily on Galactico Gareth Bale, with Welsh fans retorting that cult-hero Hal Robson Kanu, or Burnley forward Sam Vokes, provide alternative potency going forward. However, this myth was expelled against Northern Ireland, where an 89th minute penalty was needed to avoid defeat. A dependency on Bale to create something out of nothing has resulted in Welsh players not knowing how to break opposition teams down when he is absent. It appears as though those fielded by Coleman were not aware of their strengths; Vokes is dangerous in the air, and in the box, and crosses are needed to complement his play. Repeatedly, Welsh full-backs and wingers refrained from delivering a ball into the box. On the rare occasions crosses were dispatched, there was always danger. Without Bale, Wales need to play to their forward’s strengths when attacking, and they failed to do so; a plan should be devised by Coleman on how to be more direct in possession, carve open chances, and get shots on target. This needs to happen even if Bale is playing.
‘Jonnyesta’ makes a statement
Johnny Williams, affectionately known as ‘Jonnyesta’, drawing comparisons with Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta, made a clear statement when he replaced George Williams. Blessed with quick feet, the slight midfielder drifted past the Irish time and time again. Coupled with this, Williams knows when to release the ball, and has an eye for a defence-splitting pass. If the Crystal Palace man can stay fit, a problem that has blighted his career so far, and impress against Ukraine on Monday, then Coleman will be considering a starting place for the twenty-two year old.
Vaughan and Williams do their hopes no harm
David Vaughan and George Williams have done their hopes of representing Wales at France no harm; they both impressed, in their respective ways. Vaughan, always willing to put a shift in for his country, was neat on the ball, rarely losing possession and was unafraid of putting in a challenge. Capped forty times for Wales, the thirty three year-old brings valuable experience and is a good option to bring on from the bench if Wales are looking to close a game out.
Williams was a consistent out-let on the flank, and his pace was a useful asset. Williams has much more quality that his status as League One footballer suggests, even if he is on-loan from Fullham. Still only twenty years old, the winger is a lively, attackingly minded option and would not look out of place against the likes of Slovakia or Russia, if his services are required to inject some energy and exuberance onto the game.