Adaptable Wales enthral once again at Euro 2020 but can make serious statement against Italy

Wales’ superb display against Turkey which all but confirmed their place in the second round of Euro 2020 was another majestic chapter in a wonderfully successful era for the national team.

For a country of three million people to convincingly turn over a side with a population 27 times bigger than their own is never something that should be overlooked.

What’s more, they have continued to achieve while maintaining an evolution of their squad.

For an outsider looking in you see Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey at the fore and are deceived into thinking this is the same group of players as the team which reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

But it isn’t at all. Not when it comes to shape or personnel.

Only four of the players that started the Turkey match also lined up against Belgium five years ago – Bale, Ramsey, Ben Davies and Joe Allen.

The ability to bring through Danny Ward, Connor Roberts and Kieffer Moore and slot them in seamlessly is testament to the set-up the Welsh FA have in place.

Then you get to the change of formation over recent times. Wales rigidly stuck to a back three (which became a five) at the Euros under Chris Coleman. It was a system the players had myopically ingrained into their way of playing. And it worked.

But now what the team has is an ability and confidence to adapt to the opposition in front of them.

In eight of the nine games before the tournament Wales set up with a back three. Then, for the opening match against Switzerland, manager Rob Page decided to go with a four.

It wasn’t the greatest performance in the world and they could easily have lost the game. It was the kind of display where a manager would not be deemed weak or out of ideas if he reverted to type and turned to an old, trusted system.

But Page didn’t do that. Not only did he stick with the same formation, he stuck with the same 11 players. And boy did it pay off.

They are also a team assured enough in their own ability to let the other side have the ball. After 22 minutes against Turkey, Page’s side had 56 per cent possession. But the intensity they were playing at could not possibly be kept up for 90 minutes, especially in 30 degree Baku heat.

Instead, they dropped off and defended deeper, finishing the game with just 36 per cent possession, only one per cent more than they had against Switzerland.

This is another change in the way they play. In just one of their six games at Euro 2016 did Wales have less than 40 per cent of the ball (in their 2-1 defeat to England they had 30).

Nowadays, they have the composure and experience to pick their moments in games rather than trying to dominate sides with more superior talent like they attempted (and failed) to do against Portugal five years ago.

All these alterations – and what many would see as improvements – make their clash with Italy on Sunday all the more intriguing.

It would not be surprising at all to see Page revert to a back five for the Italy game, particularly when you consider how overrun Turkey looked when they tried to match Roberto Mancini’s 4-3-3.

Italy have been one of the most impressive teams in the tournament so far with their convincing victories over Turkey and Switzerland.

But neither of the sides they have come up against boast the depth and/or structure around them in the attacking areas to rival Bale, Ramsey and Daniel James. Burak Yilmaz and Hakan Calhanoglu looked lost up front for Turkey and Switzerland’s Breel Embolo simply did not have enough help around him.

Wales look like a defensively assured outfit who – in the likes of Bale, Ramsey and James – have star players peaking at just the right time.

It is not a traditional Italian team they are coming up against. This is a fluid, offensive Azzurri that are supremely exciting to watch.

But – while wearing rose-tinted glasses and sporting a Welsh hat on your head – you could draw the conclusion that their way of playing may just play into the hands of Wales.

And if Page’s side can somehow pull it off, you can stick it alongside that famous night in Lille as one of the national team’s greatest ever moments.

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