Sunday evenings game between Chelsea boys Ethan Ampadu (Wales) and Mateo Kovačić sadly ended in injury for both in what was a crucial match in pool E. Although both were substituted within 50 minutes, I still feel it’s important to review the performances of both, as there were some positives before the unfortunate injuries.
Let’s start with Ethan Ampadu, the Chelsea loanee started the game as the deepest midfielder in a midfield three consisting of Ampadu, Stoke’s Joe Allen and Charlton Athletic’s Jonny Williams. Ampadu was deployed as the deep lying playmaker of the single defensive midfielder in this game, with both Allen and Williams given the freedom to roam higher up the field, similar to Maurizio Sarri’s midfield system at Stamford Bridge last term.
Although Wales’ midfield three looked as if it was deployed to control the game in a possession based style, this simply wasn’t the case, as from the first minute Wales sat very deep and were focused hard on not letting Croatia break through. This deep, defensive style used by Ryan Giggs was not a system that got eh best out of Ampadu, who looked slightly lost sitting deep without the ball and protecting the Welsh back four. As the game progressed, Wales began to press Croatia slightly more which helped them regain possession, but unfortunately for Ampadu, Wales were less focused on playing out from the back and playing possession based football, but more focused on lumping the ball up to 6 foot 5 target man Kieffer Moore. This, once again, didn’t utilise Ethan Ampadu’s composure, meaning Ampadu was unable to have a large effect on the game in possession. As always, however, Ampadu looked more than calm on the ball when given the opportunity, showcasing this by playing 28 passes in a small 34 touches. Although these are not mind-blowing stats, they’re very efficient, which sums up Ampadu.
Although Ampadu didn’t have the effect he hoped for in possession, he still managed to show some very positive signs defensively by being a great protection for the weak Welsh back four. In the first half, Ampadu won all three of his aerial battles, while also making a very sturdy tackle to prevent Croatia having a direct attack on Wales’ suspect defence. From watching the game, it was clear that Ampadu was very disciplined and held his position very well, which was very beneficial for Wales in the first half.
Unfortunately, Ampadu’s game ended in the 50th minute after a suffering a head injury, but there were some positive signs to take from Sunday’s game, let’s just hope both Julian Nagelsmann and Frank Lampard were keeping a close eye on our future star.
Let’s move on to our Croatian midfielder, Mateo Kovačić’s game. As I mentioned earlier, Wales were basically refusing to press Croatia in the first 30 minutes of the game, which complimented Kovačić’s style perfectly. Wales’ lack of press meant the double pivot of Kovačić and Luka Modrić were given the freedom to control the midfield battle, and keep possession by playing simple passes to the nearby team-mates (like attacking midfielder Nikola Vlašić and both centre backs, Dejn Lovren and Damagoj Vida). Occasionally, Kovačić was given enough space to utilise his brilliant dribbling technique, on multiple occasions he dribbled from inside his own half into the Welsh half and slide a simple pass through to one of his team-mates, which really caused the Welsh defence some trouble. Overall, it was a standard, solid performance from Mateo, who like Ampadu, had to be substituted due to a knee injury. Kovačić was replaced by Ivan Rakitić in half time, let’s just hope it’s nothing serious and just a precautionary substitution from Zlatko Dalić.
Overall, both Chelsea boys performed as expected, very solid and composed on the ball, it was just a real shame both were substituted before the 50th minute, as the game opened up slightly as the game went on, which would’ve suited the style of both Ampadu and Kovačić.