Perhaps the problem for Wales was being far too consistent and predictable in terms of approach and the familiar faces in the starting lineup. Some may argue Gareth Bale’s absence from the critical encounter versus the Republic of Ireland doomed the chances of the Welsh.
Despite failing to qualify for World Cup 2018, the Welsh can take solace in the fact that for a second successive qualification campaign, Chris Coleman and his squad remained competitive till the end. Coleman was able to call upon almost the same players the last 3 years.
Of all the player who helped beat Belgium 3-1 in the quarter finals of Euro 2016, only two did not feature for Wales in Tbilisi, as they beat Georgia 1-0 on October 6th, 2017. One of those players was the injured Bale.
Coleman’s successful formula relied on a team of settled and experienced players, along with very few talented youngsters who have been introduced gradually. That victory over Georgia was a ninth consecutive competitive international match without defeat. Prior to the defeat to the Republic of Ireland, the last time the Welsh lost was to Portugal in the semi-final of Euro 2016.
There is a great deal of familiarity among the Welsh players, which helps them to form an excellent understanding. While the defensive unit of Wayne Hennessey, Tottenham’s Ben Davies, Ashley Williams, James Chester and Chris Gunter, has been very reassuring, a similar praise can be given to the midfield trio of Joe Allen, Andy King and Joe Ledley.
Although the 29-year-old King was used predominantly as a substitute by Leicester City in their title winning season of 2015-2016 and, sparingly – three starts and three substitute appearances – during Wales’ entire Euro 2016 campaign – he has re-established himself as an important player for Wales in more recent games.
The Welsh midfield which faced Georgia totaled 154 caps between them. That midfield proved to be not just experienced but are also very industrious, capable of not only protecting the defensive unit but also supporting the team’s attack.
Coleman’s preference is to play a 3-5-2 formation, with Bale deployed in a role behind either Hal Robson-Kanu or Sam Vokes. That system, within which Aaron Ramsey occupies the role of a playmaker, worked well during Euro 2016 and came close to success again as the Welsh fought to the very end to reach Russia 2018. Although heavily dependent upon Bale for creativity and goals, and to a lesser extent on Ramsey, Wales had other options helping when the team when forward.
For instance, the emergence of talented young forwards, Ben Woodburn and Tom Lawrence, has given Coleman further attacking options, with the pair scoring vital goals against Austria and Georgia respectively. Despite not playing regularly at club level, both have shown an uncanny ability to perform on the international stage.
It is of great benefit to the development of young players to be placed in a team as experienced as Coleman’s Welsh side as the continuity in selection serves as a source of both stability and support. With Wales missing out on World Cup 2018, perhaps it is time to give the younger players even more playing time when Wales pick up the ball next time.
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