As this isn’t a specific match analysis piece I appreciate that it may not get the number of visits that my first blog did, but I must start by thanking all of the people that took the time to read my first post. I’m not really sure what I expected when I clicked “publish” on my Slovakia blog, but I know that views in the likes of China, Spain, Austria and Sweden were certainly not anticipated! Thank you of course to everybody at home who read it as well.
Football has kept me very occupied on a number of fronts since that first blog but I have still been looking forward to sitting down and writing this. This blog is going to be published in two parts, with each part focusing on one of two players at very different stages in their international careers – firstly Tyler Roberts and secondly Aaron Ramsey. In doing so, there will be chances to look at some of Wales’ patterns of play from the last international period. I have decided to split the blog into two parts for two reasons. Firstly, I am eager to keep posts at a readable length. Secondly, the segment on Ramsey will also have a Welsh Language version.
Firstly, I would like to introduce a concept that many of you are probably familiar with and that I will use in this piece. It is an idea that is regularly used by football coaches and analysts. Below is an image on which I have divided a half of a pitch into five different “lanes”. These lanes, from right to left from the perspective of a team attacking the picture’s goal, signify the following on a football pitch:
- Wide right channel.
- Right half-space.
- Central space.
- Left half-space.
- Wide left channel.
The term “half-space” comes from the German “halbsraum”. This is football – there are very rarely rights and wrongs – and it is a term completely open to interpretation. I, like many, see half-spaces as the channels between the wide areas and the middle of the pitch (often created between a defending side’s full backs and centre backs). They are often referred to as “inside channels” or “inside pockets”. I personally like the term “half-space” from a coaching perspective due to the emphasis on creating “space”, but all relevant terms are equally as valid as each other.
I first watched Tyler Roberts in 2014 playing as a lone striker for Wales U15’s in a 1-0 defeat to Poland. He was playing in a system that, even with Ben Woodburn playing behind him, just did not work for him that evening. I had a similar feeling during the game against Denmark in the Nations League in November. His time leading the Wales line in 2018 suffered as a consequence of Ryan Giggs’ experimentation, but this isn’t necessarily a reason to criticise either individual. It was a learning curve that needed to happen. A lot of people were, firstly, surprised to see him start on the right hand side against Trinidad & Tobago last month and, secondly, disappointed with his performance. He did not have a great game – nobody did – but for me he showed more positive signs than a lot of people gave him credit for. In my interpretation of how Giggs wanted Wales to play, Roberts did reasonably well in some aspects and was frankly let down at times by the lack of quality shown too often by some of his teammates on the night. He had a very difficult night against Denmark when tasked with regularly receiving the ball with his back to goal against an experienced back line. Planning to use him in a similar role against Trinidad and Tobago and Slovakia (two physical teams) would have had me very concerned. He has the potential to be an important part of this Welsh side, even if he does not carry the hype of some of his other young colleagues like David Brooks, Harry Wilson and Daniel James.
Giggs needed to find a way to help Roberts to do the following things more effectively:
- Receive the ball between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines.
- Provide him with space to dribble at the opposition positively with his head up (forever an underappreciated skill).
- Move into the opposition’s box more dangerously.
The below image is a drawing of a passage of play that took place in the fourth minute of the match. I have not included all of the players in order to keep things clear and simple. The players in white and black are those of Trinidad & Tobago.
Lee Evans receives the ball with time to turn. Trinidad & Tobago understandably have several players close to the ball, in addition to one recovering midfielder whose recovery run is shown. In order to stretch the pitch horizontally, Chris Gunter is occupying the wide right channel (lane 1) with Tyler Roberts starting in the right half-space (lane 2). Roberts spots an opportunity to receive the ball between Trinidad & Tobago’s midfield and defensive lines. He would have the chance to receive the ball centrally (in lane 3) and with space to run at the opposition’s back four. Unfortunately, this serves as an example of Roberts being let down by a teammate – Evans takes an extra touch on the ball and then under-hits his pass. This allows for the recovering opponent to win the ball back after Roberts’ first touch. But remembering what I wanted Giggs to help Roberts to do more often, this was a good early sign.
This next drawing below is an illustration from eight minutes and six seconds into the game. Ashley Williams (AW) is on the ball. Wales have players occupying all five lanes of the pitch, which is good because it maintains width. George Thomas and Tyler Roberts are positioned in lanes three and two (central and right half-space) respectively and are both options to receive the ball between Trinidad and Tobago’s midfield and defence. Once again, Chris Gunter is occupying lane 1. A clear idea across both the Trinidad & Tobago and Slovakia matches was that of Wales’ ballside full back occupying the ballside wide channel, while the farside full back would often stay deeper and slightly narrower (shown by Taylor’s positioning on the below image). This is one aspect of a system that essentially allows Wales to cover all five lanes of the pitch in possession in a way that ensures they do not get stuck playing in straight lines and can try to switch play in a safer manner. Williams passes to Thomas and Thomas is tracked by the nearest midfielder, which leaves Roberts free. Thomas passes wide to Gunter and this helps Roberts to remain free as he moves into the penalty area. He goes on to find space in the area but a wayward pass from Gunter sees the move end. This passage of play allowed Roberts to be positioned to potentially receive the ball between the lines before allowing him to move into the central lane and into the penalty area without being marked. This is one of the ultimate aims of any attacking structure – to help your important offensive players to move in towards your key areas of the pitch so that they are positioned to create threatening moments should they receive the ball.
I have only used up about half of my Tyler Roberts-related notes from the Wrexham friendly in this piece, but I think that should suffice for now because we all still hope to see a lot more from him in a Wales shirt. The key take-away is this – Sometimes the best way to be effective in the central area of the pitch is to start wider and move inwards, either with or without the ball, especially for somebody like Tyler Roberts who can move so effectively facing goalwards if given the opportunity. The examples I have used all came within the opening ten minutes of the match and several more followed in the other sixty that he played. I decided to do a blog on him because I have a feeling that he could well grow in importance as this qualification campaign goes on. Whatever your opinion on him or these tactics, please do not be afraid to provide feedback through comments of your own, be they on here or on social media. For now, thank you again for reading – see you in part 2 for a look at Aaron Ramsey.
Hwyl am y tro.
The animations used in this piece were created by Luke Williams on http://www.sportssessionplanner.com.