Talking Tactics: Who will Bale Wales out in Gareth's absence?
The good news for Wales? Win their World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic tonight and they will leapfrog them into a play-off spot with a game in hand.
The bad news? Rob Page’s side will have to do it without their talisman Gareth Bale, as the Real Madrid winger is out with a hamstring injury.
Will the absence of their captain leave Wales hamstrung against the Czechs? Not necessarily, here is how they can still pick up those all-important three points.
Keeping it tight
Bale, 32, has been directly involved in Wales’ last five goals.
His hat-trick secured a dramatic 3-2 win over Belarus last month, while he also set up Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts in the memorable 2-0 victory against Turkey at Euro 2020.
Before that, he provided the assist for Daniel James’ winner in March’s reverse meeting with the Czech Republic.
That means in Wales’ last 10 games, Bale has played a part in six out of seven goals.
Page’s men have drawn a blank in six of those matches, including a disappointing goalless draw at home to Estonia in their most recent qualifier.
There is an over-reliance on Bale and, while they will need to find goals from other sources, a clean sheet is imperative if those strikes are going to prove hard to come by.
Can Kieffer do Moore?
Kieffer Moore has not had a great time of it at club level so far this season, scoring just once in 13 appearances in all competitions — but he is playing for a Cardiff team struggling towards the wrong end of the Championship table.
Coronavirus-related issues then ruled him out of the last round of internationals but his recent performances for Wales have been excellent.
The 6ft 5in striker scored his country’s first goal of Euro 2020, rescuing a point against Switzerland in their opening game, and continued to bully defences until the Dragons’ last-16 exit to Denmark.
There is something rather old-school about the physical presence of Moore, 29, but Wales can rely on more than just aerial dominance.
He also possesses good skill with the ball at his feet and is rather more mobile than the archetypal target man.
Ramsey’s still got it
Ramsey remains a world-class operator who comes up with the goods when it really matters.
That much was clear from the Juventus midfielder’s standout performance against Turkey at the Euros when he scored a composed opener in a 2-0 victory in Baku.
The former Arsenal man benefitted from his long-standing link-up with Bale in that game but his expertly timed runs into the box and creativity are huge assets for Wales and complement Moore perfectly.
Turning to the new generation
Former Wales midfielder Joe Ledley believes the younger talent in the squad need to seize their opportunity.
He said: "It’s time for these youngsters coming through to step up to the mark.
"We can’t rely on Gareth or Rambo [Aaron Ramsey] forever because in a few years’ time their careers are going to come to an end like us all.
"There’s a lot of youngsters coming through like Neco Williams and Ethan Ampadu and the future’s bright.
"We need to rely a little bit more on these players because they’re not actually young anymore and have played quite a bit.”
Strike them with lightning pace
Bale no longer has the pace of his pomp after suffering a number of injuries over the years.
However, Wales are blessed with one of the world’s fastest players in the form of 23-year-old Daniel James, who broke the 20mph barrier at the Euros.
The winger made a fresh start this summer by leaving Manchester United for Leeds and has started both of Wales’ last two games on the right flank.
But could he now be given the opportunity to step into Bale’s free role and put that deadly pace to use all over the final third?
Wales have won just six of their last 18 games when their captain has not started, dating back to 2016. It’s time to find someone else to Bale them out.