Daniel James has largely surpassed Gareth Bale in club football this season
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Is Gareth Bale still the best Welsh player in the world?
While there can be no debating Bale's achievements and legacy within football, the fact of the matter is that this season, he has been subpar. Due to injury, he hasn't played an official match since the Euro 2020 qualifier against Croatia on 13th October where he scored the equalising goal.
Injuries are, of course, nothing new for Mr Bale who has seen himself struck down by no less than 20 injuries during his six-year stay at Real Madrid.
And this season, in his extended absence, a promising young upstart has threatened to take over his position as the Welsh MVP — Daniel James.
On Saturday, Azerbaijan welcome Wales in a Euro 2020 qualifier as Wales seek to book their place in, what would be, their second consecutive European Championship. The Welsh have endured a troubled qualification campaign and sit fourth in the table with just eight points. A victory in the two remaining matches is paramount to stand any chance of qualifying for the tournament.
This season, Dan James has outperformed Bale in almost every metric at their respective clubs. According to WhoScored, below is a comparison of the two players:
In club football, James has more goals and the same number of assists whilst playing for an arguably lesser team. Additionally, it is commendable that he's put in such encouraging performances given he's playing in the Premier League for the first time in his career and that it's only been five months into his Red Devils' career.
Again, from stats provided by OneversusOne, James's (represented on the right) potency in the box is made clear from the illustration below and it's all the more impressive given he is eight years younger to Bale.
And don't think he's hell-bent on going forward at the expense of his team's defence. According to stats provided by Rotowire below, we can see that James (represented on the right) has put in more blocks, interceptions and tackles while also committing fewer fouls and winning more duels this season.
With Bale not match fit and coming off a lengthy period on the sidelines, the stage is set for young James to shine and help his side clinch Euro 2020 qualification. While Wales have not endured the best of qualifying campaigns, Azerbaijan have endured even worse, sitting bottom of their group with just one point earned so far.
Given Azerbaijan's abject form, it's hard not to see anything less than 3 points for the Welsh in Baku and that's why we recommend them as your pick for Saturday's game.
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The fixtures for this week are below so we'll give you some help.
Azerbaijan vs Wales
(Saturday, 5:00 pm)
During their heroic performances at Euro 2016, Wales shocked heavyweights Belgium to become the smallest nation to qualify for a semifinal at the tournament, eventually losing out to winners Portugal. But since then, they have regressed.
They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and are facing an uphill battle to clinch a berth for next summer's European championships. Ryan Giggs's squad has ample talent to get the job done but they have largely disappointed so far.
Victory in their remaining two fixtures along with other favourable results in the group will see them through. Fortunately for them, their next opponent is lowly Azerbaijan who have zero wins in their last six games, losing their previous three in a row.
With Bale on the brink of returning from injury along with a fit and firing Ramsey and James, Wales should just about get the job done and clinch victory to keep their Euro 2020 dreams alive.
Prediction: Azerbaijan 0-1 Wales
Northern Ireland vs Netherlands
(Saturday, 7:45 pm)
In Group C, third-placed NI welcome the Dutch in what is a crucial game for Michael O’Neill's men. The Northern Irish need a win to stand any chance of qualifying for the tournament. Their recent form gives them plenty of hope given they've won six of their last eight matches.
For the Dutch, a point will ensure their place at their first major championship since the 2014 World Cup. Ronald Koeman's side sit atop the group with five wins from their previous six games. The Oranje have a squad dripping with quality with the likes of Virgil Van Dyk, Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie De Jong and Gini Wijnaldum (just to name a few) in their ranks.
The last three matches between these two sides ended in Dutch victories by an aggregate score of 10-1. The Northern Irish have only mustered eight goals in their previous six games; for comparison, Memphis Depay has six qualifying goals all by himself for the Dutch.
In the previous game between these two, Netherlands struggled to break down the Northern Irish defence before eventually scoring three in the final 10 minutes. Despite their steely resolve, we expect Koeman's men to get the job done and go through.
Prediction: Northern Ireland 1-2 Netherlands
Kosovo vs England
(Sunday, 5:00 pm)
On Sunday, table toppers England face off against Kosovo. Gareth Southgate's men have breezed through the qualifying campaign so far having lost just once to the Czech Republic back in March.
In their last 33 European Championship games, the English have faced defeat on only two occasions. In their previous six games, they've scored a massive 26 goals whilst only conceding six. With the likes of Tammy Abraham, Harry Kane, Sterling and Rashford in their ranks among others, England boast one of the fiercest attacks of the big sides.
Kosovo though, are no pushovers with three wins and two draws in the last six games. These two sides have only met once before with England emerging 5-3 winners in a goal-fest. Their festy attack will be expected to trouble the English backline but we don't see anything less than three points for the Three Lions on Sunday.
Prediction: Kosovo 1-3 England
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