I attended the pre-match press conference this afternoon ahead of the game against the Rep of Ireland. Ryan Giggs and Ashley Williams answered questions on tomorrow evening’s match, the upcoming Denmark game on Sunday, playing in Cardiff again and more.
International football is back this week, in the new form of the Nations League. If you are unaware of what the Nations League is, feel free to read this explanation article I posted last month. In one simple sentence – they are competitive games and not friendlies.
Wales fans will be delighted to know that Gareth Bale goes into the matches against Rep. of Ireland and Denmark in perfect form. For the seventh La Liga game in a row, Bale managed to hit the back of the net for Real Madrid with a superb strike.
England confirmed their 2019 World Cup place in France by beating Wales 3-0 in Newport.
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.
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.
Many have been left with confusion as to what the Nations League offers and what happens if we win/lose our games. I will explain all in this article as clearly and as briefly as possible.
- There are 55 teams split into Leagues A & B (12 teams each), League C (15 teams) and League D (16 teams). Wales are currently in League B, Group 4.
- In League A, the four group winners qualify to play in the Nations League Finals (two semi-finals and one final) in June 2019. The winner is declared UEFA Nations League Champion. (We don’t need to worry too much about this for now).
- As well as this, there are play offs for the group winners of League’s A, B, C & D in the same format (two semi-finals and a final). The winner of each qualifies for EURO 2020.
- These games will take place in March 2020, after Euro 2020 qualifying is completed in November 2019. The host of the final will be chosen between two of the semi-final pairings for each League.
- If the group winner has already qualified for EURO 2020 by means of regular qualification as we know it (starting in March 2019), they will be replaced by the following means (working from League D to A):
- If the league has a group winner selected for the play-offs, the next best team in the overall ranking from a lower league will be selected.
- If the league has no group winner available, the best team in the overall ranking in the same group will be selected.
Each group winner of League’s B, C & D get promoted to the league above, whilst finishing bottom of a group in League’s A, B & C results in relegation to the league below. This will only take action for the next “season” of Nations League matches, beginning in September 2020.
So to sum up, even if we fail to qualify for EURO 2020 by regular means of qualifying (March-November 2019), we still have a chance to qualify via the Nations League play-offs, by finishing top of the group ahead of Ireland and Denmark.
Or even finishing second with a high points total would see us compete for the play-offs in League A instead of League B (the likelihood being the vast majority of teams in Group A would have already qualified for EURO 2020). There are no play off matches through the normal means of qualification anymore, only via the Nations League.
There will be 10 groups of 5 or 6 teams in EURO 2020 qualifying, with the top 2 teams of each group automatically progressing to the tournament finals, taking 20/24 places. The 4 remaining places will be awarded to the winners of the Nations League play offs for League’s A, B, C & D.
To finish with a few examples:
Let’s imagine we won our Nations League group by winning all games in September, October and November, ending with 12 points.
But then we end up finishing 3rd in EURO 2020 qualifying, missing out on standard qualification.
We would then enter the Nations League play offs (March 2020) to play one and/or two of the following teams from League B in the semi-final & final to qualify for EURO 2020 –
Austria, Bosnia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Northern Ireland, Russia, Rep. of Ireland, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkey or Ukraine.
There is a small possibility that if 8 of the above teams have already qualified, we would be in contention of playing the next best ranked team from League C (that did not win their group and did not qualify for EURO 2020) – Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Lithuania, Montenegro, Norway, Romania, Serbia, Scotland or Slovenia.
This time we finish 2nd in our Nations League group with 9 points, and Denmark/Ireland finish top by goals scored. (9 points is more than likely enough to be the next best ranked team in League B).
Again, we end up missing out on EURO 2020 qualifying, so fingers crossed lots of teams in League A have already qualified, therefore giving us a chance of the play offs for League A instead of League B.
Let’s say Belgium won their Nations League A group and already qualified for EURO 2020, leaving the next best ranked team from League B to replace them. We would enter the Nations League play offs (March 2020) to play 2 out of 3 teams from League A that have not already qualified –
(Belgium), Croatia, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain or Switzerland.
|League participation fee||Group winners|
|Nations League Finals (League A only)|