Article by Carwyn Hughes.
PICTURE by ITV.
UNDER normal circumstances, Wales manager Ryan Giggs would be preparing to announce his Euro 2020 squad by now.
As I look back at the qualifiers and the 2019/2020 season, I have come up with a possible starting eleven that Ryan Giggs could have put out in that Saturday June 13 clash against Switzerland at the Baku Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan.
Ryan Giggs chose to play with a 4-2-3-1 in all of his qualifying games expect for the 2-1 away defeat to Croatia, during which he opted to line his team up in a 4-3-3 shape with Harry Wilson playing as a false nine.
Before the introduction of Kieffer Moore into the Welsh footballing set-up, whoever were the front four during the game would interchange positions and move to different areas of the final third throughout the game.
But, after Kieffer Moore was introduced, it then became difficult for the three behind him to interchange positions throughout the game as it was clear Giggs’ game plan was to pump the ball forward to tall striker Moore who then laid it off to one of the three behind him, whilst also maintaining the width so that crosses could be put into the box for both Moore and Bale.
So, after considering this, it’s highly likely that Giggs would have opted to play with the 4-2-3-1 system at the euros, but with the injury of Joe Allen, his plans could have changed. Nevertheless, I have chosen to line up the possible starting eleven in a 4-2-3-1 shape too.
Goalkeeper – Wayne Hennessey
In recent times, many Welsh fans, including myself, have been criticising the performances of Hennessey and calling for Danny Ward to have a chance in between the sticks.
Giggs could have easily chosen Ward to be the first choice having had European Championship experience before, after he played in the first match of the Euro 2016 campaign, which resulted in a 2-1 win against Slovakia.
But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Anglesey-born Hennessey played in every single qualifying game for Euro 2020 and pulled off a fantastic double save that denied Hungary the chance of levelling the score in the 33rd minute after Ramsey’s opener. That double save effectively secured Hennessey’s number one position at the Euros for the second consecutive time.
Right Back – Connor Roberts
Since replacing Welsh legend Chris Gunter as first choice right back for Wales, Connor Roberts has impressed.
Swansea City man Roberts had a great qualifying campaign, keeping three clean sheets, grabbing one assist and getting zero yellow or red cards.
However, before football was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, Roberts had slipped down to second choice right back at Swansea behind Kyle Naughton. In fact, the last game he started for the Swans came way back on February 11 2019 in a 0-0 draw versus QPR.
But, whenever he has featured for the club this season, as a starter or sub, he has impressed providing the team with two assists and with a pass accuracy of 82%.
I believe that Giggs would have trusted Roberts to start the first game against Switzerland.
Right Centre Back – James Chester
Finding the correct centre back partnership for Joe Rodon was the hardest decision of all.
Mepham and Rodon looked like the first-choice partnership by the end of the campaign but with Mepham ruled out for three months back in January, it would have been hard for him to regain full fitness and match sharpness ready for the Euros. Giggs could have risked him and seen if he was ready to play during the warm up games against Austria, USA and The Netherlands.
Another option would have been to start Tom Lockyer. But with Charlton’s form not so good before football was cancelled it would have been hard for Giggs to choose him in my opinion. Another option would of course been the Euro 2016 captain Ashley Williams. But I don’t believe that choosing Williams would have been a good option in a two-man centre defence partnership as he his now four years older than what he was at Euro 2016 and pace is certainly an issue. Also, his form hasn’t been that great for Bristol City since December.
My reasoning for choosing Chester is because, since joining Stoke on loan back in January, many fans there and pundits of the game have been impressed by him.
The Potters have only conceded eight goals in seven games, not bad for a side that had been leaking goals all season before his arrival, which has made the defence look a lot more solid.
Also, the fact that Chester that Euro 2016 experience would have been so crucial to the 2020 campaign. Giggs could have trialled the partnership of Chester and Rodon during the warm up games to see if they could have worked together and created a formidable partnership.
Left Centre Back – Joe Rodon
Joe Rodon was drafted in to be Chris Mepham’s centre back partnership towards the end of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign after Williams, Lockyer and James Lawrence looked shaky at times.
The young centre back didn’t look fazed at all by this, looking confident and sharp every time he was on the ball.
His Wales performances have been replicated at the Liberty Stadium too and his skill combined with his great attitude has attracted interest from Premier League giants, Manchester City and Manchester United.
In my opinion, Rodon would have had to be one of the first names on Ryan Giggs’ team sheet this summer.
Left Back – Ben Davies
There was only one option for this position in my opinion, and that’s one of the best unsung heroes of Welsh footballing history, Ben Davies.
Davies has been a consistent performer throughout the years for Wales, Spurs and previously Swansea City, providing great moments along the way – none more famous than that off-the-line clearance against Slovakia in the opening minutes of the first game of Euro 2016.
During the qualifiers, many Welsh fans have said Ben Davies was one of the best players and he also provided that brilliant assist for Gareth Bale’s goal versus Croatia.
Right Defensive Midfielder – Aaron Ramsey
The second hardest decision was trying to find someone who could replicate Joe Allen’s energy and quality in midfield. In the end, after assessing the options, I went for Juventus’ Ramsey.
I could have easily picked Matt Smith or Joe Morrell for this position but with both players having very little experience on the big stage and with Smith hardly getting a game this season and Morrell playing in the third tier of English football, it would have been hard to see them play at such a big tournament against a better quality of opposition than what they are used to.
My reasoning for choosing Ramsey to play in this position is he has played in this role under Giggs before (despite many fans criticising his performances in this position). But with Ramsey’s attitude and commitment in the Welsh shirt I’m sure he could make it work if given more of a chance.
In the first game of the Euro 2020 qualifiers, the shape of the team changed from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 shape when on the ball, with Allen pushing slightly forward.
We could have seen this tactic return if Ramsey was the one who would have replaced Allen in the centre of midfield for Wales. Starting only one qualifying game was a worry but his brace in the final game against Hungary proved to be pivotal and highlighted his importance to the team as Wales secured a spot at the 2020 tournament.
Left Defensive Midfielder – Ethan Ampadu
To partner Ramsey in midfield I went for the brilliant, young, talented midfielder Ethan Ampadu. It’s very hard to justify his inclusion in this team having only played seven games for RB Leipzig this season in all competitions but whenever he is on that pitch for Wales he always gives 110% and is quality on and off the ball.
He seems to have a very wise head on his young shoulders and could go on to be the possible captain of Wales in the future, as I’d imagine it’s only a matter of time before he gets a move away from Chelsea to somewhere where he will get some game time.
Fitness would obviously be a key issue regarding Ampadu as he didn’t complete any 90 minutes during the qualifying campaign but I’m sure Morrell’s quality coming off the bench will surely get him through the last 20/15 minutes of any match, if he was to be brought on to replace him.
For me, Ampadu’s quality is never in doubt when playing for Wales and I’m sure Giggs would have started him in the opening match against Switzerland.
Right Midfield/Right Wing – Gareth Bale
Wales’ Euro 2016 star man. Whenever the national team needs a big goal, Bale nearly always steps up.
None were more important in qualifying than that late winner against Azerbaijan to keep Wales’ qualification dreams alive. The Cardiff City Stadium erupted when Bale scored that winner and you can see the relief and joy in his face when he ran off to celebrate too.
Having his performances criticised at the start of the campaign and seeming almost disinterested, it was good to see by the end that smile and quality we saw back in 2016 return.
Having only scored two goals for Real Madrid in the La Liga this season, question marks over his commitment to the club were raised after that infamous ‘Wales, Golf, Madrid in that order’ flag.
However, no Welsh fan can criticise his love and commitment to his country. And if Giggs was to include him in his squad there wouldn’t be any doubt we would have seen the best version of Bale once again in Azerbaijan and Italy.
Centre Attacking Midfielder – Harry Wilson
This was another tough one. It was a toss of a coin for me between Wilson and Bournemouth team-mate David Brooks.
What made me go with Corwen-born Wilson in the end was due to Brooks’ injury record this season and also Wilson’s playing minutes under Giggs during the qualifying campaign.
Wilson featured in every match during the qualifiers, starting or coming on as a sub. He featured in numerous different positions too: No.10, right wing and up op as a false nine. This shows his willingness to play for Wales and crack down and get the job done in any position asked of him. Of course, his quality from dead ball situations would have been handy during games too.
Wilson and Brooks offer something very similar, that’s why Giggs could have gone with either one of them but my personal preference would have been Wilson.
Left Midfield/Left Wing – Daniel James
James’ qualifying campaign started with a bang – scoring the winning and only goal in the opening game of the campaign against Slovakia. His club season also started off brilliantly as he hit the ground running by scoring an emotional dream goal on his debut at Manchester United.
His pace is frightening and, although his final ball might not be the best in the world, he’s got the skill, pace and determination to make it in the Welsh shirt.
Having played in the Premier League all season and being used to playing against quality opposition, playing at the Euros wouldn’t have been any different for him.
Giggs might have preferred to use James as an impact sub and use his pace against tired defenders but if he wanted to do that, I think he would have put Rabbi Matondo on the bench and bring him on later in the game and start James.
Striker – Kieffer Moore
Who doesn’t love this Welsh giant? After Moore’s (above) debut against Belarus he became an instant hero among Welsh fans. Winning every header, bullying every defender, chesting every ball and scoring two great headed goals against Slovakia and Azerbaijan.
I think it would have been very hard for Giggs not to include this man in his starting eleven.
With many Welsh fans wondering who this man was before they saw him on the pitch against Belarus it would’ve been impossible this time last year to predict he would lead the Welsh line at Euro 2020.
However, when he was introduced into the team, Wales instantly had a game plan and a focal point up top. With Bale drifting in and out of games playing as a striker and Vokes getting older now, Wales were in desperate need of a striker like Moore.
He has the ability to distract and drag out the defenders in the box and creates space for other attacking players to move into, which was severely lacking before his introduction.
If a game plan hasn’t been broken then why fix it and this is the case here with Moore. Not many defenders he played against during the campaign were able to handle him so why would Giggs want to change that?
The summer of 2020 would have been another special occasion for the Welsh team and its fans no doubt, with many supporters all set to fly out to Baku and Rome to create a special atmosphere in the streets once again. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to create an article like this once again when the tournament eventually takes place next year!