Last night, Wales drew 1-1 with Serbia at the Cardiff City Stadium, the opening goal coming from Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale before Aleksandar Mitrovic’s late header broke Welsh hearts.
It was a topsy-turvy night for the hosts, with ups and downs aplenty. Stoke City’s Joe Allen was one of the standout performers, which won’t come to any surprise for Potters fans.
A forced change in Wales’ shape meant that Allen was forced to play a lot deeper and more defensive than he ever has in senior football.
Wales have famously employed a 5-2-3 formation for the majority of Chris Coleman’s reign, but injuries to Ben Davies and James Collins forced the manager’s hand.
Coleman decided to field an unorthodox 4-2-2-2 shape, that often looked like a 4-2-4 with Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Sam Vokes and Hal Robson Kanu as the forwards.
Strangely, when Wales were out of possession, neither of the front four tracked back to mark Serbia’s wing-backs which forced midfielders Allen and Joe Ledley out wide very regularly.
The change in shape meant that Wales had one less defender than usual. Until last night, the back five plus Allen and Ledley contributed to the defensive block, but as an extra forward was fielded it meant a lot more work for the six defensive players.
Just 19% of Serbia’s attacks came through the middle, via Whoscored, which was no surprise as Welsh full-backs were marking wingers, leaving wing-backs wide open more often than not.
How did Allen fare in this system?
As indicated by his heat map, Allen spent the a large portion of his time in the right-back role. He wasn’t able to join in the offense often either, as he had to be wary of the counter-attack.
He did play very well in this newer defensive role however, making a Wales-high three tackles and a joint Wales-high four interceptions. He also made two clearances and two blocks, to accompany 42 completed passes.
Allen did well defensively, as he was often tasked with covering wing-back Ivan Obradovic, who had more touches of the ball (80) than any other player, while dealing with midfielders Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic.
There was one instance at the 69th minute mark, where a lobbed through ball from Matic forced Allen into the right-back spot, where he handled the ball inside the penalty area. Fortunately for Wales, referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco decided against pointing to the spot.
Is this good news for Stoke?
Wales have fortunately decided against playing many friendlies, meaning Allen will only play one international game this break, as opposed to the accustomed two that England play.
It doesn’t appear that he picked up any sort of injury, and showed that despite playing in a more advanced role in the Premier League, he can still perform well on the defensive end of the field.
I previously noted that Mark Hughes could move Allen back alongside Glenn Whelan to accompany Bojan into the side, and this performance should ease fears that the Welshman would be groggy in a more refined role.