Wales can deal with Ireland’s direct style
When Wales take on Ireland on Monday, it’s going to be an extremely competitive affair. This vital World Cup qualifier will be an intriguing clash between two teams who are very familiar with each other.
If Wales start with James Chester and Ashley Williams at centre-back, they should prove more than capable of nullifying Ireland’s aerial threat. Both would have played at a level of football being strong in the air is an absolute necessity. Look at where Ashley Williams started out in football – he wouldn’t have got to where he is now without being a powerful force off the ground.
So it’s hard to see Ireland’s direct style of play being an area of particular concern for Wales, even though the Boys in Green do present a much sterner aerial test than a lot of teams at international level, especially if Daryl Murphy plays. Having said that, it’s nothing that Wales players haven’t had to deal with before.
Ireland’s weakness is between the lines
Ireland can be exposed between the lines, because they often tend to sit deep. I’ve seen them play that way against a lot of opposition, even last time out against Moldova at home. They have no problem with ceding control of the ball, so it’s important for Chris Coleman’s charges to remember not to get excited if they end up dominating possession – Ireland are well used to playing without the ball and have proven they can get results doing so.
Martin O’Neill generally allows opponents to work the wide areas, because he trusts his players to deal with any crosses that do come into the box. For Wales to have any joy against his team, they’ll need to focus on operating in the gap between Ireland’s midfield and defence.
But this could suit Wales, who haven’t played with out-and-out wingers for several years now. Our wide-men tend to come inside quite a lot in order to create a midfield overload, and I feel that’s an area on which we have to focus.
Wales aren’t going to win this game in the first twenty minutes – they have to be prepared to wait for their opportunities. Patience is a must: Ireland need a win, so eventually they’ll have to loosen up, and this is when Wales can get at them.
Gareth Bale is not irreplaceable
Before the Georgia match, we hadn’t won without Gareth Bale for quite a while – because we simply hadn’t had to. He’s rarely been out of the team, so the need to win without him doesn’t often crop up.
Of course he’s a big loss but he can be replaced. We have other players who are also excellent footballers. Obviously, few can match Gareth’s level, but that’s just because he’s one of the best players in the world.
Moreover, Wales benefit from having an engrained structure of play – the players have been together for a number of years and they all understand their roles. They’re aware of what they have to do, including those who are in and out of the side.
We made do without Gareth against Georgia. That was a very tricky game and Wales came through it, so it’s clear they can succeed without him. It’s a great opportunity for someone like Tom Lawrence to seize his chance.
This is probably the best state that Welsh football has ever been in. The quality of young players that we have coming through now is higher than I have seen before.
We’ve widened the net in terms of looking for players to bring through. The Welsh FA have been very thorough in undertaking background checks in relation to who might be eligible to wear the red jersey.
Being able to bring in top kids who are at top clubs is allowing us to compete for players with England. We’ve succeeded in expanding our recruitment, and the team is already benefiting from that.
The system in Wales is now highly professional, and we also focus heavily on the players’ education. The players who get called in are very well looked-after, and go back to their clubs having had a positive experience in the international setup.
Consequently, they want to keep coming back and we’re now keeping hold of kids like Ben Woodburn and David Brooks, who in the past may have gone to England.
Something else we’re doing is fast-tracking the young guys into the senior squad if they prove themselves within the camp. This gives them the chance to train with the older pros, meaning that everyone gets to know each other very quickly. We want to make them believe that they’re part of something special, a tight-knit community.
For so many years, we were having boys nicked off us. Now we’re hanging onto them, and Wales is stronger for it.