Ben Davies played a key role to help his country to victory in a game that was tactically won in the wide areas.
Both managers set up to stop the other side playing through the centre. Whereas his Slovakian counterpart failed to navigate this, Chris Coleman recognised and set his team up to take advantage down the flanks. Ben Davies was positioned on the edge of a back three and played a key role in the Wales win.
Ben Davies centre back
Ben Davies is no stranger to the centre back position. Having him on the outside edge of a back three took advantage of his left back skills as well as helping make Wales tight through the middle.
On the ball, Davies was tasked with doing three things.
The first was to move it to fellow centre backs Ashley Williams and James Chester to navigate any Slovakia pressure. Second, he had to get the ball up the left flank to Neil Taylor who played high up as a wingback. Third, and something we see at Spurs, he was playing long diagonal switches out to Chris Gunter in the opposite wingback position on the right.
Davies was tidy on the ball, but it was moving it to both wingbacks that would help Wales overcome the central congestion by taking advantage in the wide areas.
Without the ball, Ben Davies would make his biggest impact racing back to deny Marek Hamsik a certain goal with an exceptional clearance off the line.
Being a full back and operating on the edge of a back three, he was comfortable being pulled out to defend towards the touchline. However, with Slovakia’s insistence to attack more centrally, Wales’ central trio were required to be much tighter. This saw Davies intercept a number of balls through the inside channels.
His crucial clearance off the line was pivotal, as minutes later Wales would take the lead from another underlying factor in the match, fouls.
Fouls and free kicks
Chris Coleman set his Welsh side up in a 3-4-3, whereas Slovakian manager Jan Kozak set up in a 4-1-4-1. Both sides were trying to deny each other space in central areas of the park and this caused an exceptionally high number of fouls, 33 to be exact.
Jonathan Williams was involved in two of the biggest incidents of the match. Elbowed by Martin Skrtel in the box for a blatant penalty and what should’ve been a red card was not given, but a trip in the congested central zone was.
Williams had got himself right in to the heart of Slovakia’s three-man central midfield before being up-ended. The passage of play, however, had started out on the flank. Wales winning the ball back then going out wide to wingback Chris Gunter before coming back inside to Williams.
Gareth Bale caught the keeper cheating towards his near post expecting the shot to go to that side, but it didn’t, and Wales were ahead.
There were a number of other good free kick chances from fouls. Bale sent a drive in to the waiting keeper’s arms after he had learnt from his error in the first half. Aaron Ramsey also delivered two dangerous dead balls in from wide as Wales looked to use their three centre backs for an aerial advantage
Won in wide areas
With both managers constricting the centre with their differing formations, the space for both sides was in the wide areas and this is where the big chances came from.
Marek Hamsik almost opened the scoring after he took Aaron Ramsey’s ill-advised flick pass out on the right. He beat three defenders, but saw Davies clear off the line.
Wales then took the lead from a free kick after getting the ball wide and then back in to Williams who was fouled.
Slovakia almost levelled the game up as Hamsik once again was involved out wide. This time he swung a cross over from the right flank that just evaded Martin Skrtel. The Liverpool man had beaten the offside trap and had the freedom of the Welsh penalty area, but the cross was just too high.
Slovakia would get back in to the game after substitute Ondrej Duda scored with his first touch. The move saw the Slovaks move the ball across the field and then quickly out to Robert Mak on the right. This caught Aaron Ramsey on his heels, as Mak raced forwards down the wing. Neil Taylor was too deep and David Edwards late across to stop his run.
Mak was able to square the ball to Duda who let it roll across his body to freeze Ashley Williams before placing his shot in the bottom corner to make it 1-1.
The goal saw Slovakia now start to take control of the game. Chris Coleman responded by making two changes that saw the influence swing back towards his side. On came Joe Ledley, which added some bite in central midfield and also Hal Robson-Kanu who was a menace in the wide areas. His cross picked out Aaron Ramsey who snuck in unmarked, but headed a guilt-edged chance over.
Wales also had another great chance from this side as they exploited the wide areas once again. This time the cross found Gareth Bale, but he saw his downward header clawed away by goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.
Slovakia were beginning to tire and after many chances from the wide areas, Wales ended up winning the game by going down the centre. In the build-up though, they moved the ball out to both sides across their back three, which stretched Slovakia out.
Slovakia had been pulled across the pitch, but then Joe Ledley got on the ball. The Crystal Palace man threaded a great pass through the centrally congested zone to Aaron Ramsey, taking several Slovakian players out of the game.
Ramsey turned and tried to jink his way past centre back Martin Skrtel, only for the ball to fall for Robson-Kanu. The substitute didn’t make the cleanest connection, but it didn’t matter. His scuffed shot trickled through the legs of Jan Durica and in to the bottom corner of the net, cueing mad scenes of celebration as Wales went up 2-1.
The game wasn’t over and Slovakia caused a major scare for Wales, once again from getting the ball out wide. Again it was Marek Hamsik, as his cross found the head of Adam Nemec, but the substitute’s header rung back off the post.
Wales could’ve added to their lead with two breakaway chances. Gareth Bale saw his shot saved on the first, Aaron Ramsey then overplayed when Wales had numbers over.
Wales 2-1 Slovakia overall
Ben Davies had a good match. His movement of the ball was decent to keep getting it to the wingbacks. They had the space with the central zone being so congested. His goal line clearance saved Wales from an early setback that could’ve seen the game take on a much different perspective.
The space for both sides, and the majority of chances, came from the wide areas. England should take note of this for Thursday’s encounter. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose will be key figures in exploiting this if Chris Coleman again goes with a back three.
Final score: Wales 2-1 Slovakia.