Wales versus Denmark presents a great opportunity for both teams to progress into the quarter-finals at Euro 2020. Wales have been playing a more progressive style of football, showing signs of a larger plan for the nation moving forward.
They are confident in their abilities to play out from the back through Joe Rodon and Chris Mepham, while trusting the midfield pairing of Joe Allen and Joe Morrell to move the ball to the more creative Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale. It has been surprisingly eye-catching.
Denmark come into this game after thumping Russia in Group B. By beating Russia so comfortably, Denmark were able to move above Finland in their group through goal difference. Against Belgium it was clear that Denmark were playing with passion rather than tactics after exhausting themselves in the first half.
While admirable, it is not sustainable. We saw less of this misguided passion against Russia. Instead of all ten outfield players pressing like it was the 90th minute and down a goal, we saw a more composed Denmark side but with the same level of desire.
This tactical preview will serve as a guide to what tactical ideas both sides will employ in this match based on their performances in the group stages.
Wales will play out from defense in a back three structure. They will line up in a more traditional “back four” but in possession it will shift into a three. Rodon will take the more advanced role of the three, while Ben Davies moves from the left fullback position to left center-back. Against the Danish front three, this allows the Welsh to create a four versus three scenario in the first phase of play, allowing for a simpler time playing out from the back.
With that said, it won’t be easy. Denmark currently ranks third at Euro 2020 for percentage of successful pressures at 37.2%. This means that 37.2% of the times that Denmark presses, they win the ball within five seconds. This could be a caveat with the understanding of how aggressive Denmark played against Belgium in the first half of their match, but notable nonetheless.
Once the ball moves out to the defenders, Allen and Morrell will look to split from their narrow starting positions into their half-spaces, allowing for Aaron Ramsey to drop into a more central role. With Rodon, Morrell, Allen and Ramsey all entering the middle third as the ball progresses from the first third, this will lead to a press from Højbjerg and Delaney, who are already spread quite thin with defensive duties with Maehle acting as both the widest attacker and defender.
Denmark are ranked 23rd of 24 teams at Euro 2020 for middle third pressures attempted at 154. For reference, Hungary are 24th with 144 midfield pressures, while Holland are first with 256 midfield pressures. This leads me to believe that should Wales play out from defense in the structure they have so far, they’ll likely be able to enjoy a smooth transition into the final third too.
Wales have adopted an attacking structure that takes the shape of either a 3-3-4 or 3-2-5 with the difference being that Ramsey joins the forward line, leaving Morrell and Allen in midfield. The purpose of using these structures is to have the Welsh wide players, Roberts and James, isolate their defender counterpart. So, Roberts will be tasked with beating Maehle while James takes on Wass.
Historically speaking, Wales are not filled with players capable of beating their man one versus one. However, at Euro 2020 Wales rank second for percentage of completed dribbles at a whopping 67.9% with Daniel James completing seven dribbles from an attempted nine.
The key battles will be Daniel James versus Wass. I’ve gone on record several times slating James but he’s made me eat my words at Euro 2020. While Bale is quite clearly the most talented Welsh player, he is in good company. Bale’s role will likely change frequently. He will start on the right but will be given the freedom to play in the right half-space as an inside forward, a deeper playmaker in the wide area like Kevin de Bruyne or even as a winger to challenge Maehle with Roberts.
Denmark will defend in a 5-4-1 shape when in their own third. The objective for Denmark should they win possession will be to attack the wide areas left behind the advanced Roberts and inverted Davies when transitioning from defence to attack.
Denmark will start with three recognized central defenders. In the build up phase, Kjaer will take a more advanced central role while the left and right center-backs take up wider roles on top of the penalty area. Wales press in an asymmetric 4-3-3 shape in the opposition first third, shifting into a 4-4-2 when the opposition moves the ball into the middle and final third, with Ramsey joining the forward line with Moore.
Denmark can create a four versus one scenario in the build up phase, but welcome pressing from behind by the opposition. This is done because Denmark can play quickly, meaning that defenders pressing them will be exploited as the space left behind them will be used by the forward moving Danes.
Points of focus for Denmark will be the left flank through Vestergaard. Bale doesn’t have the pace to cover both Vestergaard and Delaney. So Bale can be expected to be beaten just due to the number of passing options Denmark will have.
Alternatively, Denmark can use the right side. Morrell will not be able to shield Poulsen and Højbjerg, both of which are expected to operate in the right half-space. Ramsey will be tasked with covering Kjaer, meaning that Højbjerg, Wass and Braithwaite are likely to be the excellent forward options should Denmark beat the first line of the Welsh press.
Once possession moves from the middle to final third, Denmark will continue to play through the right flank. The attacking shape resembles an asymmetric 3-3-4 or a heavily lopsided 3-2-5 with focus on the right. Højbjerg will likely continue to operate in the right half-space role with permission to join the forward line for late runs into the box, or operate in a more creative role from deeper in midfield.
Key battles will be Maehle and Roberts. Roberts has largely shirked his defensive duties at Euro 2020 due to his much more exciting attacking role, while Maehle has been one of the best wingbacks at the tournament. I expect Damsgaard to have an exciting game against Mepham as the Dane has completed four dribbles from an attempted nine.
What has really impressed me is how often Denmark are playing in the penalty area. Denmark are ranked first at Euro 2020 for the team with the most touches inside the opposition penalty area at a whopping 116 touches. They beat out Spain, Holland and Italy; such esteemed company. They also rank fourth for number of progressive passes made at 127 passes over three games, beat by Italy, Germany, Holland and Spain.
Wales could opt for a back five like they did against Italy to combat this wealth of attacking talent at Denmark’s disposal, but that would seem too regressive from a side that played attacking, possession based football against Switzerland and Turkey. Additionally, Ampadu is suspended for this game after being sent off against Italy, meaning that Wales would bring in Chris Gunter from Charlton who looked incredibly out of his depth against Italy and would be more detrimental to Wales than anything.
Wales: Ward, Roberts, Mepham, Rodon, Davies, Allen, Morrell, Ramsey, Bale, James, Moore
Denmark: Schmeichel, Vestergaard, Kjaer, Christensen, Maehle, Wass, Delaney, Højbjerg, Braithwaite, Poulsen, Damsgaard
Both teams are impressive going forward. Wales have surprised many at Euro 2020, myself included. The stepping stones are there for a nation that wants to play a more attractive style of football. After their heroics at Euro 2016, it’s hard to write off this Wales side. With that said, I think this is their toughest challenge after Italy.
Denmark will play with a similar intensity to the one we saw against Russia. This team likes to attack in numbers. Their players, especially Damsgaard and Braithwaite, are exceptional in their one versus one duels. I don’t expect one team to walk over the other, but I am predicting a Denmark victory due to that they have more players at a higher skill level than Wales, while also playing for something larger than Euro 2020: Christian Eriksen.
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___