Wales face the most gruelling task of their 2018 World Cup Qualification campaign when they face an aggressive Serbian side on Sunday.
It is a defining match; the hopes of progression hinder on whether the Welsh manage to bring a result home.
Currently trailing the Serbs – who top the group – buy four points, the Welsh need something meaningful to breathe life into a dormant campaign.
This is by far Wales’ most important match since the glory of last summer’s unprecedented success and Chris Coleman, the Welsh boss, will realise this, as will his players.
With such emphasis being placed on this encounter, here are five talking points before this crucial showdown in Belgrade.
Vokes must take chance
Sam Vokes ended the season in emphatic form for Burnley, scoring five in five games.
Barring an injury, he will almost certainly spearhead the Welsh attack and provide a focal point. If this is the most important Welsh match since the summer, then this might just be one of the most important Welsh matches in Vokes’ career.
Vokes will be tasked with holding the ball up, flicking on long balls and providing a physical presence in the box.
In Gareth Bale’s absence, Vokes must step up. It is crucial that Vokes plays well and asserts himself as an authority in the Serbian defence.
Can the Welsh find potency going forward?
In their last match, a 0-0 draw against the Republic of Ireland, Coleman’s side were stale going forward. They failed to create and appeared to lack the imagination necessary in unpicking a compact Irish defence.
It was only Bale who looked like breaking the deadlock, and that came in the dying minutes of the game – a driving run leading to a shot that agonisingly crashed off the post.
This is a team who confidently dispatched of Belgium 3-1 in the summer, so there does exist the quality necessary for a liberated attack. Yet, they have failed to ignite this spark since.
Wales will likely absorb pressure and look to hit Serbia on the counter-attack, but this game plan will only work if the Coleman’s men are clinical in front of goal.
Disciplined defence crucial
So much of Wales’ recent success has been built on a ‘strong a stable’ back-line. Forgive the political allusion, but it finds perverse pertinence here.
A defence commanded by Ashley Williams has been admirably firm under Coleman, but such organisation looks to have slipped slightly. If there was ever a time when Wales’ need to re-align this complacency, it is against Serbia.
The likes of Chris Gunter, Ben Davies, James Chester and Williams will have to lead – lead through setting a do or die example.
If Wales are to shut out Serbia in their own back yard this will be a typical ‘bodies on the line’ performance.
Who will replace Neil Taylor?
Neil Taylor’s dismissal in the previous match against Ireland leaves Coleman with a dilemma. Does he change his blue-print and implement a 4-4-2 system or does he stick with what he, and more importantly, his players know?
In all probability, it will be the latter. Coleman has given debut places in the squad to Everton’s Gethin Jones and Bristol Rovers’ Tom Lockyer, but it is doubtful that he will thrust them into immediate action. Thus, Coleman is likely to deploy Cardiff’s Jazz Richards once more.
This is a competent replacement – there were even arguments over whether Richards should have started ahead of Taylor in Ireland – and Richards offers more daring attacking play.
Wales fans will also remember how the Cardiff man marked Belgium’s Eden Hazard out of the game two years ago. Richards should be a like-for-like replacement for Taylor, even if he plays his natural trade at right-back, rather than on the left.
History to repeat itself?
Wales have had two games on 11th June in the last two years. Unforgettably, last year’s was a 2-1 triumph over Slovakia – a victory that was soaked in so much euphoria after a history of hurt.
The one before that was a 1-0 win over Belgium: a moment where Welsh fans started to believe that they would actually qualify for a major tournament for the first time in 58 years.
History bodes well then for Wales. Hopefully it will once again repeat itself to lend favour for Coleman’s men.
Written by Michael Jones
Follow Michael on Twitter @jonesmichael_97
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