Ryan Giggs is a dozen games into his reign as Wales manager and his side are in the midst of a fierce Euro2020 qualifying battle. Now, argues Matthew Burgess for Dai Sport, after we saw the good, the bad and the ugly against Croatia, it’s time young guns Ethan Ampadu and David Brooks were unleashed against Hungary tonight.
Twelve games into the Ryan Giggs-era, it can be argued that Wales have struggled to produce full 90-minute performances under his tutelage. Saturday’s defeat to Croatia proved no different.
Under the glaring Osijek afternoon sun, Wales morphed from the good, the bad and the ugly, but in reverse order, as they somehow mustered the strength to rally in the latter stages against the Croats.
Looking ahead to tonight’s clash against surprise early group leaders Hungary, the question is can Giggs find the balance and stability that was sorely lacking for much of the Croatia game?
Considering just how exposed Wales were defensively on the weekend – the ugly – we can consider ourselves fortunate that Croatia were themselves lacking a clinical edge and unable to capitalise on the vast space afforded to them. A team in more clinical form would surely have forged more than a 1-0 lead as the Croats did by half time.
Arriving into half-time with just a one goal deficit would have been one of the few positives to draw from the first-half, yet any hope of a more galvanised, structured display in the second-half were quickly dashed as Wales looked at their worst in an opening 5-10 minute spell – the bad – which saw the Croats extend their lead.
Their first strike was harshly chalked off for offside but more uneasy Welsh defending allowed them a second goal.
Despite this, Wales did somehow and unexpectedly muster the strength and character – the good – to force their way back into the game when it seemed unlikely, and they must use that as momentum to establish themselves in more convincing fashion against Hungary.
The introduction of the inexperienced but wonderfully cultured Ethan Ampadu helped settle Wales in the midfield battle which for much of the game they came out second best.
Giggs has stated Ampadu is lacking fitness but with minutes under his belt against the Croats, his presence in the team from the start can bring composure into the side and keep possession flowing through the team early on.
David Brooks, another lacking fitness, should also be handed a start, hopefully adding the positivity and spark that had been absent in the final third until his introduction.
Finding that spark in the final third is crucial to a Welsh team, who’re blessed with options for raw talent and guile to buzz around the king of the crown Gareth Bale.
There will be of course be some temptation to go with Sam Vokes from the off. He would relieve some of the pressure off the team in their own half and will win the ball high up to get Bale involved.
Vokes’ presence, however, would mean moving away from Giggs’ preferred approach of playing through teams, as opposed to banging the ball into a target man, and after their recent training camp in Portugal, where they would have worked on shape in transition and attacking phases, it is difficult to see Giggs and his coaching staff undoing the building blocks and reverting to a more direct approach.
If this new-look Wales team are able to learn from their shortcomings against Croatia and build on their performance in that final 20 minute spell of the game, they will have the ability to competitive and more than a match for Hungary.
With three points from six and some important lessons learned it might not be too bad of a return from this developing Welsh team after all.