Talking points as Wales look for qualifying boost against Azerbaijan
Wales are playing catch-up in Euro 2020 qualifying as they host Azerbaijan on Friday.
Hungary lead the way in Group C with a six-point advantage over Wales, albeit with the Magyars having played a game more, and Croatia and Slovakia are three points better off than the Dragons.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding the Cardiff game.
Wales must bounce back from their summer of discontent or face up to the likelihood that Euro 2020 qualification will depend on the play-offs in March. Back-to-back June defeats in Croatia and Hungary have left Wales with serious ground to make up, and their cause is not helped by the fact that they are in a five-team group. Another slip-up against opponents yet to pick up a point from three games does not bear thinking about.
Balance of power
Manager Ryan Giggs has to find the right balance to what on paper is a powerful attack. Giggs is again without the injured Aaron Ramsey – the Juventus new boy yet to figure in Euro 2020 qualifying – and David Brooks. But Giggs still has the attacking talents of Gareth Bale, Daniel James, Harry Wilson and Tom Lawrence at his disposal, and it is how he deploys them that will be key to breaking down potentially stubborn opponents.
Will the Real Bale stand up?
Wales’ summer defeats came as speculation around Bale’s future at Real Madrid raged. So it was perhaps no surprise that their talismanic striker was out-of-sorts and missed a sitter in Hungary. The good news is that Bale is now back in favour at Real and ended a near six-month scoring drought with a brace against Villarreal last weekend. So will we see the real Gareth Bale?
Dan the man
Daniel James has hit the ground running at Manchester United quicker than he flies down the wing. The 21-year-old speedster has scored three goals in four games since his £15million move from Swansea and Giggs will be hoping for a repeat of his match-winning performance against Slovakia in March. James’ raw pace will be a key weapon and his ability to play on either flank provides flexibility.
Back to the future
Giggs is likely to blood a new central defensive partnership against Azerbaijan. Skipper Ashley Williams was omitted from the squad after failing to find a new club until late-August, and his Euro 2016 centre-back partner James Chester continues to be sidelined by injury. So two 21-year-olds, Bournemouth’s Chris Mepham and Swansea’s uncapped Joe Rodon, could be reunited from their Wales U21 days and link up at the heart of defence.