Wow. It’s less than a week away… This time next week we’ll be reflecting on Wales’ opening game and dissecting their performance with more than an eye on the hugely anticipated England game. The Euro’s will finally be underway!
Prior to that, immediate thoughts should be on Stockholm not France as Chris Coleman and his staff have one last opportunity to run his eye over the squad and get the side playing game minutes together in a fairly competitive environment.
The result won’t mean a great deal but it’ll be a good yard-stick and final exercise to iron out any kinks in Wales’ collective performance after an extended period together in Portugal and then back in Cardiff.
I really liked the idea of the Portugal training camp, and holding a full inner-squad friendly as opposed to holding a training camp with an international friendly attached to it was the best possible preparation we could’ve had, in my view. In that inner-squad friendly, there would’ve been a heavy emphasis on coaching the sides through the game with the ability to momentarily pause the games and look at shape and positional changes. It is these details that will shape Wales’ destiny in the biggest month of our footballing lives.
Speaking to the press yesterday evening, Coleman confirmed Bale will feature, although most likely from the bench, eight days after his nail-biting 120-minute Champions League final performance.
Coleman’s confirmation of Bale’s availability puts to bed any concerns over fatigue and although it’s vital that the squad, especially Bale, come through this afternoon’s game unscathed, it’s equally as important he gets playing minutes in a Wales shirt before Bordeaux next weekend.
Bale last featured for Wales back in October and just 30 minutes for him out there in Stockholm to familiarise himself playing in the system is absolutely a risk worth taking. He made 31 starts for Real Madrid last season in La Liga, Copa del Ray and the Champions League combined – there are players in the squad who’ve played more games and if the conditioning staff had any doubts over his physical condition whatsever he won’t be playing – as simple as.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR AGAINST SWEDEN
One of the key things we learnt from the March double-header against Northern Ireland and Ukraine, it was the possible emergence of an unwelcome trend of conceding from set-pieces as Wales allowed goals in both games from set-play situations. We also struggled to defend set-plays against Bosnia in qualifying and it you can guarantee that this is something which Coleman, Osian Roberts and co will have worked on heavily in training. Hopefully, the results will be there to see against Sweden.
With Allen and Ledley both currently unavailable, there is a chance that the midfield which starts here will face be one that faces Slovakia. Though Allen and possibly Ledley should be fit then, you suspect Premier League winner Andy King and one of David Edwards/David Vaughan will start alongside Aaron Ramsey. It’ll be interesting to see what the balance is like minus Allen and Ledley, two big players for Wales who can really dominate in the middle.
Unlike Slovakia who’re almost certain to play with a 4-2-3-1 against Wales, Sweden will most probably go 4-4-2 today. While Marek Hamsik is undoubtedly the danger-man for the Slovakians, playing as the ‘10’, I would expect Wales to use the Swedish attacking threat of Kim Kallstrom as a dress-rehearsal prior to facing Hamsik. Nullifying his effectiveness will be a good defensive test.
Sam Vokes is expected to make just his second start in three years for Wales this afternoon! He’s probably a better finisher (and had a better club season) than absent first-choice centre-forward Hal Robson-Kanu, but he lacks the mobility of the Reading man which is so important to Wales’ shape. Having struggled to get playing minutes with Wales, we may well lack cohesion in the final-third, particularly if Bale doesn’t start.
I’m going to turn my attention away from the Welsh Premier League for the duration of the Euro 2016 campaign on InsidetheWPL, I hope to post regularly during the tournament with news, views and anything else of interest. Feel free to get in touch here in the comments section or via Twitter @1matthewburgess Thanks for reading!
Image courtesy of the FAW