The second match of Wales’ June double-header saw them travel to Budapest to face a Hungary side that had already defeated Croatia and were a win away from returning to top spot in the group. The pressure was on Wales to bounce back from their matchday 2 defeat in Croatia and get their qualifying campaign back on track.
After beginning with a 1-4-3-3 against Croatia, Wales reverted back to the 1-4-4-1-1 (Hennessey; Gunter, A. Williams, J. Lawrence, B. Davies; Bale, Ampadu, Allen, Lawrence; Brooks; James) used against Slovakia in March, which often became a 1-4-2-3-1 in possession. Ryan Giggs made five changes from the match in Osijek, with Gunter and Ashley Williams replacing Roberts and Mepham in defence, and Ampadu, Brooks and Tom Lawrence replacing Vaulks, Smith and Wilson. Hungary lined up in a 1-4-1-4-1 that became a 1-4-3-3/1-4-2-3-1 at times when in possession. The below photo shows Wales becoming a 1-4-2-3-1 from kick-off as they look to directly move into Hungary’s half.
After conceding from their own build-up against Croatia, it was interesting to note how Wales went much more direct in the first half of this match – shown below. Thanks to the television coverage provided, it was evident that this was verbally endorsed by Ryan Giggs after goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey’s first goal kick of the evening, so it was definitely a conscious decision.
As the two members of Wales’ double-pivot, Joe Allen and Ethan Ampadu would provide short, diagonal options for their centre backs in build-up (Ampadu on the right, Allen on the left), allowing for the ballside fullback to push higher into the widespace. This is a regular feature of Giggs’ Wales side.
Hungary were very patient in build-up and were happy to play out from goalkeeper Gulacsi, with Wales affording the Hungarian centre backs plenty of time on the ball – favouring a midblock instead. As shown below, Hungary’s central midfielders Nagy and Pátkai came deep and a short distance from their centre backs in order to ensure safe initial ball circulation. This also gave Wales the problem of not being able to use the central pairing of James and Brooks to simply look after one deep-lying central midfielder, as Brooks and Bale had done against Slovakia. The fullbacks also started deep to encourage Tom Lawrence and Gareth Bale to press further forward. This visibly created a large gap in the middle of the pitch, with attacking midfielder Szoboszlai often occupying the opposite halfspace to where the ball was, allowing him to drop deeper to offer if the ball moved across the pitch laterally.
Wales reacted by pressing Hungary’s initial build-up with more of a 4-3-3 outfield shape, before dropping back into their usual midblock shape in deeper areas. This helped Wales to cover relevant spaces more effectively – shutting off passing lanes to the fullbacks while allowing Joe Allen to fully commit to pressing a dropping midfielder in the centre.
Against Croatia, Wales looked to play diagonal aerial balls from the left towards Gareth Bale, who would run diagonally into the centre from his starting position wide on the right. When this took place, Daniel James, starting centrally in Budapest, did exactly the same as Harry Wilson had done against Croatia by dropping deep as the ball is played, positioning him behind Bale ready for the potential knock-down. This is an effective way of Wales getting up the pitch quickly.
Wales conceded to Croatia in the aftermath of one of these diagonal passes, with Luka Modrić able to exploit Wales’ vacant right side with one pass. The Croatia blog discussed how this space could have been protected by Will Vaulks, and the photo below shows Ethan Ampadu doing just that (near the top right of the photo) with fullback Chris Gunter having moved forward. Without being in the Wales camp it is impossible for us to know whether Will Vaulks made an individual error in not covering this area or whether it was a structural issue within Wales’ positional play, so rather than criticising an individual it is fairer to just acknowledge that Wales rectified this problem against Hungary.
A key feature of Hungary’s attacking play was for Balázs Dzsudzsák to receive the ball on his left foot in the wide right space, triggering striker Ádám Szalai to make a run in behind to meet a penetrating pass played between Ben Davies at left back and James Lawrence at left centre back. Hungary got chances from this and should have scored on one occasion. This caused Wales issues in the first half and caused them to defend deeper after the break.
Midway through the first half Wales rotated their two wide players with their two attacking central players. Brooks went on the right with Daniel James on the left. Tom Lawrence moved centrally behind Gareth Bale. This was a good move – they had a new angle of attack as Daniel James benefitted from having more space to run into and was able to make direct runs with the ball that troubled Hungary’s right back, Lovrencsics. Gareth Bale could now drop centrally to offer for the ball without leaving the wide right space vacant.
Substitution 1:- Ampadu off, Smith on. Ampadu had played well but it was no secret that he was lacking match fitness and it was not surprising to see this change take place.
With the game having settled and Wales having a solid foothold in the game, Hennessey began playing shorter from goal kicks and in general build-up from deep areas. In contrast, Gulacsi was playing longer for Hungary, who conceded some momentum to Wales for a significant portion of the second half.
Gareth Bale missed a big chance on the hour mark that came from a well-worked Wales move. After short build-up saw the ball with Ashley Williams, ballside fullback Chris Gunter remained deep as a short option – attracting the Hungarian left winger and leaving the wide right space open for David Brooks to be found with a good pass from Williams. This pass triggered Joe Allen to move away from the right halfspace and go more deep and central – vacating the halfspace for Brooks to dribble into before playing a split pass for the onrushing Lawrence. This was a similar move to the one that led to a goal against Slovakia in March and these attempts at attacking centrally via the wide right space are becoming a noticeable feature of Ryan Giggs’ Wales team.
Substitution 2:- Brooks off, Wilson on. This was another unsurprising change given Brooks’ lack of fitness.
Substitution 3:- Lawrence off, Vokes on. This substitution in the 79th minute saw Wales rotate their attacking pairings again – Bale moved back to the right wing and Harry Wilson played centrally behind Sam Vokes. This is shown below.
80′ – Hungary 1-0 Wales.
Wales conceded within a minute of this change. Baráth received the ball at right centre back for Hungary and was not pressured enough by Vokes to prevent him having the time to pick out a switch of play into the wide left space for left back Korhut to receive. Bale had moved inwards to cover left centre back (Orban), similar to how he pressed onto Vida at left centre back against Croatia. Korhut had the time and space to play a long ball into the box for Szalai to receive. He went to ground under pressure from James Lawrence but the ball fell to Pátkai to score. The initial switch of play came from Wales being caught defending in a 1-4-2-3-1 rather than the safer and deeper 1-4-4-1-1. James Lawrence would arguably have been better served standing his ground rather than trying to challenge Szalai for the ball. Again, Wales conceded a frustratingly cheap goal after being well in contention.
Both of these defeats were devastating for Wales and leave serious question marks over qualification for EURO 2020. There were positives – Joe Allen was excellent in Budapest and consistently performs well in Welsh double pivots. The positional rotation in attack did cause Hungary problems that nearly resulted in goals, most notably for Tom Lawrence in the first half and Gareth Bale in the second. Ryan Giggs has got this Welsh side trying some good things and only scoring once in two games away in eastern Europe isn’t an enormous concern – the disappointment comes from the manner in which the goals were conceded because no team can expect to do well if they keep giving away cheap scoring opportunities. Aaron Ramsey was an enormous miss and will hopefully be fit in September, when I expect Wales to bounce back with two wins against Azerbaijan and Belarus (the latter of which is a friendly). Wales are in a unique situation – we have never experienced going into a EURO qualifying campaign having qualified from the previous edition and this is a pressure that will only weigh heavier on the squad if results do not improve. Qualification is still very possible but the margin for error has been relinquished already.
Thank you for reading/diolch am ddarllen.