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How the Welsh players performed this weekend

In another Real Madrid win, Gareth Bale scored his second of the season against Girona. A classic from the no.11, a burst of pace to run in behind onto a beautiful through pass from Isco, to be followed with a sidefoot finish into the bottom corner. Bale also managed an assist for the fourth goal, a low cross for Benzema to finish for Madrid to make it 4-1.

Aaron Ramsey was back in the starting line up for Arsenal on Saturday after rumours he was dropped to the bench because of ongoing contract issues. He played his first 90 minutes of the season in the no.10 position and scored a goal that was disallowed for offside. Ramsey will face his hometown club, Cardiff next Sunday in the last set of club fixtures before the international break.

Newcastle’s Paul Dummett looked good at the back for Newcastle, despite them losing 2-1 against Chelsea on Sunday. He also looks to have improved his quality on crosses from last season. With just two defenders playing regularly in the Premier League, it is likely that Dummett will be called up this week.

David Brooks was able to play out an hour in Bournemouth’s draw against Everton. Tom Bradshaw was introduced for Millwall in the second half after signing on loan from Barnsley in midweek and Ben Woodburn came on for the last 5 minutes to see out Sheffield United’s 3-0 win against Bolton. Louis Thompson managed 81 minutes for Norwich in a 3-0 defeat to Leeds, but Tyler Roberts continues to be omitted from the Leeds 18.

The two goalscorer’s for Derby in midweek, Tom Lawrence and Joe Ledley didn’t manage to find the net in Derby’s 2-0 win this weekend. Ledley was replaced after 49 minutes because of an injury. Harry Wilson remains sidelined and it is unknown whether he will be fit enough to be called up to the Wales squad this week.

James Chester put in a strong display against Reading for 90 minutes, at least that was until he mistimed a tackle in the penalty area in the dying minutes. Reading scored the penalty and the game finished 1-1; Neil Taylor made an appearance in injury time just before this mishap. Chris Gunter is still not back in the Reading squad, but he managed to play the first half for the U23 side on Saturday.

In League Two, Mark Harris continues to be very impressive for Newport. He had a strong claim for a penalty denied by the referee just before half time in their 1-0 win over Grimsby. Meanwhile, Newport born Christian Doidge and former Wales U21 international Michael Doughty got the goals in the 1-1 draw between Forest Green and Swindon.

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Bale is back with a bang: Welsh player roundup for this weekend

Gareth Bale kicked off the new La Liga season with a goal against Getafe in a 2-0 win. After a strong pre-season with 3 goals in 4 games, he reopened his league account with a finish into the bottom corner from an Asensio cross. He hit the bar with a diving header and also whipped in the ball that Getafe were unable to clear, Carvajal eventually heading it over the goalkeeper and into the net. Now that Ronaldo has left Real Madrid, there is a new pressure on Bale to become the talisman; his recent performances have shown he can be the main man at the Bernabéu.

Hal Robson-Kanu scored the seventh goal in West Brom’s emphatic 7-1 win over QPR. After being on the pitch for just 8 minutes, he was able to turn in a cross from the right side to finish from 5 yards out.

David Brooks continues to impress for Bournemouth, playing 78 minutes of their 2-1 win against West Ham. His involvement in Bournemouth’s attacking play is brilliant to watch and adding goals to his game will be a welcome addition.

Joe Allen got his first assist of the season, floating in a stunning free kick for Peter Crouch to head in after 61 minutes to finish the game 2-2. Ben Davies played another 90 minutes at the weekend and was used in a wing back role for Spurs in their 3-1 win over Fulham, as Pochettino decided to opt with a 3-4-3 system.

In a surprising turn of events, Paul Dummett has allegedly spoken of his desire to return to the Wales setup, following his international “retirement” in late 2016. He has continued to put in solid performances for Newcastle at left back in the Premier League and did so again at the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Gwion Edwards continued his good run of form for Ipswich. A scintillating run that began in his own half almost ended with a goal, only to be denied by the crossbar. He consistently caused Aston Villa problems down the flanks in a side that featured James Chester but no Neil Taylor (unused sub). Edwards has the best ‘dribbles completed per game’ average in the Championship this season, ahead of the likes of Jack Grealish and Samu Saiz.

Chris Mepham was in tremendous form again for Brentford at the heart of defence, securing another clean sheet and another win for the Championship club. Young gun and former Cardiff City youth player, Ash Baker played at right back for Sheff Wed in the same match.

Swansea’s 0-0 draw against Birmingham on Friday night saw Connor Roberts and Joe Rodon both get 90 minutes each and a clean sheet for the second game running. Daniel James also made his first team debut for the club after 65 minutes.

Despite conceding two goals on Monday evening, Wayne Hennessey put in a decent performance for Crystal Palace against Liverpool. Both Danny Ward and Chris Maxwell are sitting on the bench at their clubs currently, so Wayne will no doubt be starting the Nations League matches (barring injury).

Cardiff loanee, Mark Harris was able to get his first goal for Newport on Saturday to win a point away at Exeter. The Wales U21 international will really want to show his worth in League Two and become a star for Newport this season.

Youngster Matthew Smith played his first 90 minutes in the league for FC Twente, as they opened their campaign with a 2-1 win. Emyr Huws played 45 mins for Ipswich U23’s v Hull and managed to an assist with a cross after the half hour mark. Adam Davies kept a clean sheet for Barnsley and Ched Evans got his second goal of the season for Fleetwood in a 2-2 draw.

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Assessment of the last qualifying campaign and the dawn of a new era

Statistics are not everything in sport, but they give a good indication as to who performs at the highest levels. Gareth Bale is undoubtedly the best player Wales have available and the stats back that up on just about every occasion.
There are many players in football that don’t often have the “glory stats”; players like Joe Allen or James Chester – they do the small things that go unnoticed but are vital in the team.

I’m not going to get overly involved in stats in this article, but I have compiled some that I think are interesting to look at. The following tables include the players’ goals and assists from the 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign, listed in order of the ‘average per game ratio’ (zoom for larger view):

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 14.56.31

Bale had a poor second half of the campaign for Wales by his standards and in fairness to him, it looked like he was carrying an injury in most games he played. However, he still managed to top the goalscoring charts with 3 goals, Ramsey and Allen coming second with 2 each.

We saw Tom Lawrence come alive and really step up to the mark when Gareth Bale was unavailable against Georgia. He hit a stunning strike from 20 yards to score his first goal for Wales and earn his country a vital 3 points in Tblisi.

The feature of the campaign was the introduction of the “Starman“, Ben Woodburn, who managed a 25% goal & assist ratio without even starting a game.

His goal against Austria, well what can you say? I don’t think I’ve seen a more perfect debut goal in football. The stunning rendition of “Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” ending at the exact moment where Woodburn can compose himself before unleashing a strike that won the game for Wales.

Incredibly, Woodburn only played 76 minutes of football for his country in the World Cup qualifiers and topped the assists per game ratio, above the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. He also scored the same amount of goals as Vokes, who played in every game (7 starts, 3 sub) and Robson-Kanu, who played in 9 (4 starts, 5 sub).

In the four games Wales won – Moldova home and away, Austria home & Georgia away, at least two of “the key three” Bale, Ramsey and Allen were on the pitch together:

4-0 v Moldova – Bale & Allen
1-0 v Austria – Bale & Ramsey
2-0 v Moldova – Bale, Ramsey & Allen
1-0 v Georgia – Ramsey & Allen

In the two games where only one of the three were available, Wales drew against Georgia and lost against Ireland (Joe Allen brought off injured after half hour).

Fans and pundits have said the 1-1 draw against Georgia at home was the missed opportunity, but I think a lot of people forget we were lucky to not lose that game. Georgia dominated periods of the second half after they equalised and Wales were rattled, especially defensively. Okriashvili was pulling the strings from midfield, they hit the woodwork, forced Hennessey into a couple of good saves and looked by far the likelier side to take all 3 points.

For me, it was the two games in the middle of the campaign that were costly – against Serbia in Cardiff and Ireland in Dublin. Bale, Ramsey and Allen were on the pitch together for 90 minutes in both games and we were only able to win 2 points out of a possible 6 (though the Serbia game was Ramsey’s first 90 minutes of the season in November). These two teams were our main qualification rivals in Group D; winning a total of 3/12 points from your closest competition is not going to get you to the World Cup.

What severely lacked throughout was the ruthless attacking edge in the final third. We only managed 5 goals in the last 6 games, which is simply not good enough to qualify for a major tournament. Here’s hoping the new influx of young talent we have coming through will add an exciting dimension to future teams.

World Cup 2018 stats for the 21 players that made an appearance for Wales:Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 17.42.52

A New Era

The squads for the Nations League and EURO 2020 games will be a contrast to what Chris Coleman’s were. James Collins, David Cotterill, Simon Church and Dave Edwards have been replaced with the likes of Chris Mepham, David Brooks, Harry Wilson and Ethan Ampadu. Not to mention many of the other new boys who will be fighting for a place in the coming seasons – Lee Evans, Declan John, Connor Roberts, Tom Lockyer, Matt Smith, Tyler Roberts, Joe Rodon and Gwion Edwards to name a few. We may see Danny Ward become a regular for Wales if he manages to stake a place in the current Leicester side.

The bonus that comes with a lot of the new players is their versatility; Ampadu can play in central midfield or central defence, Brooks, Woodburn, Lawrence and Wilson can play on either wing or as no.10’s.

Ryan Giggs will be thinking long and hard about moulding a system that is best to fit some of these players in. With a surplus of attacking options available, you would predict that at some point he will opt for an out-and-out offensive front three. You can read more about potential formations in this previous article.

What’s uncertain is whether we will see the natural no.9 phased out of the system. Players like Sam Vokes and Hal Robson-Kanu could be dropped in favour of more pace on the counter. Will we continue to see Ashley Williams as captain at the heart of defence as Chris Mepham continues to be highly impressive for Brentford? Joe Ledley and Andy King could find their future Welsh caps numbered as Lee Evans and Ethan Ampadu are certain to be knocking on the door for a place in the starting XI.

Whatever the case, this is an extremely exciting period of transition. We have stronger squad options now than I can ever remember in my lifetime. Let’s hope this is matched with some memorable results and regular qualification for major tournaments.

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Hennessey was the standout Welsh player on the opening weekend of the Premier League

Despite not featuring in Crystal Palace’s final pre season game against Toulouse last weekend, Wayne Hennessey made his return to the Palace team with a man-of-the-match display against newly promoted Fulham. Spaniard Vicente Guaita is Hennessey’s new competition for the no.1 spot, but his magnificent clean sheet at the weekend will ensure he keeps his place in the team.

Tom Lawrence continued his tally amongst the goals for the second weekend running with a stunning free kick against Leeds, but wasn’t enough to stop them losing 4-1. Wilson and Ledley were both involved but came off early in the second half.

Making his debut against Cardiff on the weekend, David Brooks could have easily got his first goal for Bournemouth after shifting into some dangerous attacking positions. Brooks played more as a right-sided no.10, rather than a natural wide winger. He didn’t quite have the finish in his locker at the weekend but he will no doubt score for his new club very soon.

Ben Davies put in an assured 90 mins at left back in Spurs’ 2-1 away win against Newcastle, whilst Aaron Ramsey didn’t look 100% fit in Unai Emery’s first game as Arsenal manager. On the positive side, Emery looks like he is a fan of the position Ramsey has normally excelled in for Wales and this can only be beneficial for club and country.

James Chester scored his 8th goal for Villa in their second win of the season and deadline day signing, Lee Evans, was introduced after 55 mins for Wigan in the same match.

In a 7 goal thriller, Hal Robson-Kanu was back amongst the goals for West Brom scoring their fourth in a 4-3 win over Norwich. Former U21 international, Louis Thompson was brought on in the 88th minute – his first Norwich appearance in 2 years after having horrible luck with injuries.

For Brentford, Chris Mepham continued his great form with a strong performance against a strike duo that included Benik Afobe and Peter Crouch. Ashley Williams made his Stoke debut after 26 mins, coming on for the injured Bruno Martins Indi.

Welsh centre backs were few and far between a couple of years ago and now there seems to be an array of strong choices. Joe Rodon was like a new signing for Swansea, being part of a defence that kept a clean sheet against a solid Preston team to win 1-0. After being on the club’s books since the age of 8, the local boy made his professional debut at the age of 20 on Saturday. Fellow Welshman, Connor Roberts also continued his berth at right back.

Tom Bradshaw scored his first of the season for League One side Barnsley, while Sam Vokes was unable to get the winner for Premier League outfit Burnley in his 20 minute appearance.

The two Welsh players still in pre-season, Gareth Bale and Matthew Smith, are both still scoring for fun in their respective teams.

Bale has been sensational in pre-season for Madrid, scoring 3 in 4 games (his latest against AC Milan on Saturday) and one stunning assist for Marco Asensio last Wednesday. See below for a view-from-behind of his assist from the stands.

Matthew Smith scored again for FC Twente in their final friendly match on Friday. He looks pretty nailed on to be a regular in their side for the forthcoming season in the top flight of Dutch football.

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How Wales could line up against Ireland & Denmark next month

Assuming all of our players are passed fit by the beginning of September, including Chris Gunter and Aaron Ramsey who are both currently sidelined with minor injuries, Ryan Giggs will have a plethora of options available to him for his first competitive game as Wales manager. Certainly more options than most Wales managers have had for 15+ years.

The past 12 months has seen a number of players burst onto the scene for Wales. Ben Woodburn’s debut against Austria last September was arguably one of the biggest impacts a young player has had in recent times. His performance against Moldova a few days later was also something to treasure, a burst of pace down the left wing to whip in a cross for Hal Robson-Kanu to finish for a vital win 2-0 away from home. Hard to believe at the time he was only 17 years old, outshining his star-player counterparts Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey on both nights.


The trio of Woodburn, Brooks and Ampadu coming on against France in November 2017 was a very exciting moment for Welsh fans; a glimpse into what the future could hold following 3 very assuring performances against a country that would go on to win the World Cup just 8 months later.

Slipping slightly under the radar, a number of players made their debuts against Panama during the same month – Lee Evans, Tom Lockyer, Marley Watkins and Ryan Hedges. Whilst Ryan Giggs has given 5 players their first caps in his first 3 games including Chris Mepham, Connor Roberts, Billy Bodin, Matthew Smith and George Thomas. He has also re-introduced Harry Wilson and Declan John to the setup, both performing closer to the levels everyone has wished to see for some years during the China Cup in March.

However, Giggs hasn’t yet called up the following players (either to injury, being out of favour or “passport issues” in Ward’s case): Ethan Ampadu, Jonny Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu, Danny Ward, Neil Taylor and Emyr Huws.
He will have also been given headaches on whether to select Gwion Edwards, who has had the perfect start for Ipswich or Tyler Roberts, who has been given the no.11 shirt at Leeds and will no doubt feature before September.

As it stands, the following players have the best chance of being called up for the first set of Nations League matches:

Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey, Danny Ward, Chris Maxwell
Defenders: Ben Davies, James Chester, Ashley Williams, Chris Mepham, Chris Gunter, Neil Taylor, Connor Roberts
Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Andy King, Joe Ledley, Lee Evans, Ethan Ampadu, David Brooks, Harry Wilson, Gwion Edwards
Forwards: Gareth Bale, Sam Vokes, Tom Lawrence, Ben Woodburn

Probable standby players: Declan John, Hal Robson-Kanu, Tom Bradshaw, Jazz Richards, Tom Lockyer, Marley Watkins, Adam Davies, Tyler Roberts (will likely be picked for the u21’s v Liechtenstein & Portugal). 

Giggs has more attacking players available to him than Chris Coleman ever did when he was manager. Here are 3 formations that he could use to get the most out of the players at hand.

1. Most commonly used system over the past 4 years, 3-4-3

  • Players are comfortable and very familiar with the system.
  • Offers the target man option with Vokes so Bale and Ramsey can be brought into play together.
  • Able to get the most out of Ben Davies in a wing back role as he has done successfully for Spurs in recent times.
  • Experience all over the pitch, aside from Mepham who will be helped by a team that has compiled 614 caps between them, with an average age of 29.

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 23.10.41

2. More experimental with a high press, 4-1-2-3

  • Can be very difficult for the opposition to track interchanging wingers.
  • Has Bale playing as a no.9 so his energy can be saved for attacks on the counter. Will also make use of his height and heading ability on crosses from either side.
  • Bale can also be implemented as a false 9, as he has done for Madrid in pre-season.
  • Versatile system with a flexibility to defend in a 5-4-1, with Ampadu dropping into the centre of the defensive line and the wingers creating a flat four with Allen and Ramsey.
  • Extremely dangerous on the counter with Ramsey bursting from midfield to link with the front three. Ampadu and Allen’s ability to pick a pass from anywhere will cause havoc for the opposition.

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 23.11.07

3. Attack minded with pace, 4-2-3-1

  • Makes use of the speed we have available in the squad with Wilson, Lawrence and Brooks all in the same team. Woodburn or Edwards could also slot in comfortably on either wing.
  • Again, featuring Bale as a no.9 so his energy can be mostly used in attack.
  • Has Lawrence in a no.10 role, which he has excelled in for Wales previously.
  • This system is probably best used if we are needing a goal with 20-30 minutes remaining.

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 23.11.39

The main issue against the Republic of Ireland in both games last year was scoring goals. You don’t have to be a football expert to work that one out.

Defensively it looked pretty comfortable throughout, even when Taylor got sent off in Dublin, the backline still looked okay. A sloppy bit of play and a lack of concentration led to conceding in Cardiff, so for me, formation number 2 looks to be the strongest option v Ireland. Offering a set of very attack-minded players on the break with pace (4-1-2-3/4-2-1-3), as well as the ability to slip into a defensive shape (5-4-1) that can transition into a counter quickly and effectively.

With the game being at home and Ryan Giggs’ first competitive match, he would love to get off to a winning start. I don’t think we should overestimate what Ireland have at their disposal, I believe that was the mistake last time and ultimately led to two games of stalemate. This doesn’t take away the fact that they are a very competitive, street-wise team with an excellent manager in Martin O’Neill. Wales will see the majority of possession in Cardiff and hopefully with some youth in the side, we are able to score a goal or two.

Against Denmark, Giggs will presumably employ a less attacking formation. I’d imagine we’d revert to 5 at the back (being his first competitive away game, the fact they hammered 5 goals into the Irish last year, as well as reaching the last 16 of the World Cup in Russia). Denmark also have a world class player in Eriksen, which Ireland do not have. Give him a yard or two and he will, nine times out of ten, punish the opposition.

There will be a more in depth tactical post on the upcoming Republic of Ireland and Denmark games closer to September.

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The Welsh players that stood out for their clubs on the opening weekend

On Friday night, Tom Lawrence started the weekend off in style with a rare bullet header to win the match in the 94th minute for Derby, securing Frank Lampard’s first win as manager. Harry Wilson also made his debut in the same game but wasn’t able to have an instant impact.

Gwion Edwards was the probably the highlight of the weekend, making his Championship debut for Ipswich and played with flair that surprised many. He managed to score just 5 minutes in and showed natural pace and trickery that will hopefully grab the attention of Ryan Giggs for the upcoming Welsh squad. Ellis Harrison also impressed in his first game for the club.

Skip to 1:30 on the video here to see a blistering run by Edwards from his own half almost end with a stunning individual goal.

Chris Mepham started the weekend off in style for Brentford in their 5-1 win and has notably been handed the no.6 shirt for the season, showing he can definitely become a key player this season for his club. Now that Chester, Williams and Mepham are all playing Championship football, it will be interesting to see who misses out in the upcoming Wales matches.

Swansea began the new Championship season with an away win over Sheffield United and looks as though Connor Roberts is now going to become the regular right back for the Swans. In the same game, Lee Evans played 90 mins for Sheff Utd and Woodburn came off the bench, but was unable to have an immediate introduction. Joe Rodon was an unused sub for Swansea.

New signing from Peterborough for Preston, Andrew Hughes looks to have become first choice left back. We will soon see if the 26 year old is a potential new rival to Neil Taylor and Declan John. Chris Maxwell has for now lost his first choice place to Declan Rudd in the Preston team.

Elsewhere, Christian Doidge scored a brace for Forest Green in League Two. George Williams also played in the same game but came off just after an hour.

In FC Twente’s final friendly, on loan signing Matthew Smith from Man City scored the third goal in a 3-0 win over Turkish Süper Lig side Göztepe.

Gareth Bale scored yet another screamer for Real Madrid on Saturday evening in a 3-1 friendly win against Juventus (without new signing Ronaldo).