Wales will kickstart their European Championships 2020 qualification campaign as they host Slovakia at Cardiff on Sunday.
After a tremendous performance in Euro 2016, Wales will look to get their Euro 2020 qualification campaign off to a flying start at the Cardiff City Stadium this weekend. But, they will face a stern test against Slovakia, who secured a convincing 2-0 win over Hungary in their opening fixture.
Wales famously reached the semi-finals of this coveted tournament four years ago, where they started their group stage campaign against the same opposition. However, things will be different this time as the Slovakian side, coached by Pavel Hapal, look to stretch their winning streak this weekend.
As for Wales, they too will be full of confidence coming into this fixture, having secured a narrow win over Trinidad & Tobago in midweek, thanks to a last-gasp winner from Liverpool youngster Ben Woodburn.
The Dragons will have the home advantage, which could be pivotal as they have already scored in five of their last six home matches. Slovakia, on the other hand, has a terrible record on the road, losing six of their last seven matches away from home.
And, here, at the Hard Tackle, we run the rule over the two sides ahead of this crucial Euro 2020 qualification match-up this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
Ryan Giggs is likely to recall players who missed Wednesday’s game against Trinidad & Tobago, meaning we could expect Gareth Bale to return to the starting eleven.
Aaron Ramsey and David Brooks are likely to be available as well, though Ethan Ampadu, Sam Vokes and Tom Lawrence will all miss the game.
Bale will replace Ben Woodburn as the number nine and will be supported by the wide duo of David Brooks and Daniel James, both of who will return to the side at the expense of Tyler Roberts and Ryan Hedges respectively. Harry Wilson, on the other hand, could replace George Thomas at the lone attacking midfielder.
In midfield, the return of Ramsey should see Will Haulks relegated to the bench along with Lee Evans, who will make way for Joe Allen. We can expect a cagey affair in midfield, where these two players will have to influence the game with their technical superiority, though Ramsey is likely to feature in a more advanced role.
Wales’ four-man defensive backline will comprise of Connor Roberts, Chris Mepham, Ashley Williams and Ben Davies. Roberts and Davies will come in place of Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor in the fullback slot while Wayne Hennessey will replace Danny Ward in goal.
Probable Lineup(4-2-3-1): Hennessey; Roberts, Mepham, Williams, Davies; Ramsey, Allen; Brooks, Wilson, James; Bale.
Slovakian head coach Hapal is unlikely to make too many alterations from the side, which secured a 2-0 win over Hungary. Thus, we expect the 49-year-old to stick to his trusted 4-2-3-1 formation, where the Slovakian attack will be led by Ondrej Duda.
The Hertha Berlin star will start ahead of Michal Duris and will feature as the false nine. He will be partnered by Marek Hamsik in the number ten role and two wide attackers in Robert Mak and Albert Rusnak, who scored in the win over Hungary.
Former AC Milan star Juraj Kucka will retain his place at the base of Slovakia’s 4-2-3-1 alongside Stanislav Lobotka. Kucka’s industry and work ethic could be key in dealing with the experienced midfield duo of Allen and Ramsey.
Hapal is unlikely to make any changes in defence either, with Peter Pekarik and David Hancko occupying the fullback roles while Denis Vavro and Manchester United target Milan Skriniar will start at the heart of the four-man backline. It will be interesting to see how the Inter Milan defender fare against Bale this weekend.
Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka will keep his place in between the sticks and will be aiming for back to back clean sheets.
Probable Lineups (4-2-3-1): Dubravka; Pekarik, Vavro, Skriniar, Hancko; Kucka, Lobotka; Rusnak, Hamsik, Mak; Duda.
- Slovakia reached Euro 2016 by finishing second to Spain in qualifying, with a 2-1 home win over La Roja the highlight of their seven victories.
- Wales were 2-1 winners against Slovakia when these teams met in the group stages of Euro 2016
- Slovakia have lost six of their last seven matches away from home. Furthermore, Hapal’s side have failed to score in each of their last three competitive clashes on their travels.
- Wales had conceded in each of their last six home games before preventing Trinidad & Tobago from scoring on Wednesday.
- Wales have seen over 2.5 goals in their last 3 matches against Slovakia in all competitions.
Player to Watch
As iterated earlier, this could be a big game for Milan Skriniar, who has been linked with moves to Manchester United and Chelsea this year. Therefore, the Inter Milan centre-back will look to make an impression on British soil as he hopes for a big money move in the summer.
However, Skriniar will be dealt with a stern test of facing Bale, who will return to the starting eleven and will lead the Welsh attack this weekend. His pace and dynamism coupled with his strong, direct runs into the box could cause terror for the Slovakian defence.
Therefore, it surely won’t be a walk in the park for Skriniar, whose ability to win the ball with his excellent positioning will be tested against clever operators like Ramsey, Bale and Brooks, thus making him the player worth looking forward to this weekend.
Wales 1-1 Slovakia
Both the sides could share the spoils in this important fixture as it is unlikely as to whether or not will the hosts be able to thrive against the Slovakian defence, which looked solid in the win over Hungary. Thus, we expect a low scoring or even a goalless draw at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday.