Here what I have seen and noted from Wales 4-0 defeat on Friday at the Color Line Stadium in Alesund.
The starting 11 was surprising considering regulars like Angharad James and Hayley Ladd were dropped as well as new captain Sophie Ingle. Natsha Harding was named captain for the game. Lack of high intensity level in the previous game against Austria ( a 3-0 defeat) has been mentioned as a reason behind those changes.
The line-up was : Alice Evans, Rhiannon Roberts Kylie Davies Nia Jones, Laura May-Walkley Jess Fishlock Rachel Rowe Natasha Harding, Loren Dykes Charlie Estcourt Helen Ward.
Wales were defending deep with in a 5-4-1 formation with Estcourt as a lone striker and the two wing level with the back while the wingers dropped to play alongside the two central midfield. Attacking wise, it was 3-4-3 the starting 11 system.
There is no doubt that the team was set-up with a defensively minded orientation to frustrate Norway.The players were well prepared into their respective roles with many hard workers especially the wing backs and central midfields.
Fishlock and Rowe covered miles and miles while Harding from very deep and May-Walkley roamed down the flanks. Dykes and Ward were also very disciplined and tracked back leaving Estcourt as a lone striker chasing the defenders on her own.
Considering the set-up and its use, Ludlow was justified in ringing the changes. If it had not been for some individual errors related to positioning within the defensive block, the game could have reached half-time with a 0-0 scoreline has the back three were not very much under pressure, besides a few crosses coming from the wings.
The downside of that set-up is that attacking wise Fishlock was very isolated in trying to organise counter-attacking raids and there only one chance for Ward to score from 20 yards
Maybe a third midfield player with an older more experienced head would have helped attacking wise as some of the forward / attacking passing was quite poor throughout the game. But it would have meant a 3-5-2 system and no possibility to double up defending on the wings against the Norwegian wingers and full back in their 4-4-2 system.
There were also a few times when Estcourt was hard working at annoying the defenders and Fishlock initiated a pressing high on the pitch but nobody else followed up as all the players stayed in their respective place. It is a shame as the ball was there for the taking with a quick win high on the pitch and a real chance to do damage in transition.
But that kind of experience to press together with 3 or 4 players, you need the experience to feel the right moment and that’s were Ladd, James or Ingle could have helped. Overall the damage limitation tactic was working in the first half with two goal conceded via errors, but there was a clear problem up front as Estcourt was doing a very good job as a defensive center forward but was too isolated and not pacy enough to run behind the defenders.
At half-time Wales made a welcomed tactical switch as they needed to score goals to get back in the game. Estcourt and Harding exchanged their position giving Wales the pace option up top. It had a positive mechanical effect has it allowed Wales to play higher of the pitch and forced the Norwegian defensive line deeper.
The Norwegian block was very compact in the first half as their defender only had Estcourt to face and played high and close to their midfield. Harding stretched them a little bit more and allowed Wales more breathing space and time on the ball.
Ward was replaced on the 56th minute by Fletcher on the left wing probably to make a bigger attacking impact but it did not really worked well and James replaced May-Walkley in the 74th minute as the poor girl had no energy left after running up and down the wing.
It was definitely a better second half for Wales for threatened more attacking wise rather than defend to the full like in the first half. Overall as someone mentioned to me on twitter, it is the same kind of result against big team ie large defeat but I can safely said that there has been a certain improvement compared to the 4-1 defeat to France 4 years ago or the defeats to England in the World Cup qualifiers.
We all know Jayne Ludlow like players who can run longer and harder because that is what is needed at international level. France coach Bergeroo did exactly the same when he took over from Bini in 2013. He added a physical preparation specialist to have the French girls compete physically with the USA, Sweden or Germany.
Once the players will reach a good enough international level, then it will be time to introduce a more passing / attacking kind of football.
1-0 The ball on the left side of the penalty area is played between Fishlock and Rowe who is on the wrong side of Mjelde who can shoot from 20 yards. Evans parries the ball with her knee but it goes towards Herlovsen who taps it in.
2-0 a simple overlap on the left side behind May-Walkley and a cross to Ada Hegerberg who heads it well past Evans.
3-0 an excellent lofted through ball from Ronning behind the Welsh back line and a cool finish by Herlovsen
4-0 an 18 yards free kick from Mjelde that hit the near post and gets in. Only 3 players in the wall which is strange ans the fourth one moved away to mark a Norwegian player.
All four goals are the product of a team and individual mistakes.
A decent Wales performance, with some improvement to makes to be competitive against the best teams in Europe.