Neco Williams on song for Wales as the Liverpool defender leaves fans chanting his name after a fine display against Albania in final Euro 2020 warm-up game
- Wales drew 0-0 with Albania in their final warm-up match ahead of Euro 2020
- Neco Williams had the Wales fans chanting his name during a fine display
- The Liverpool defender looks set to leave it all out on the pitch at the Euros
By the end of a bruising last warm-up game on Saturday, a new chant was emanating from the ‘Red Wall’ of Wales fans. It was their equivalent of the legendary Yaya/Kolo Toure anthem that Manchester City fans always sang, only with Neco and Jonny Williams’ names substituted.
‘Neco, Neco, Neco, Neco, Neco, Neco, Neco Williams…’ This was some send-off to Baku, where Wales play Switzerland on Saturday, and the evidence of the past week is that the young Liverpool defender will leave it all out on the pitch in Azerbaijan.
His harsh early dismissal against France last week left him devastated, with team-mates using jocularity to help him get past it. By Saturday against Albania, he was back at right wing back, playing with his head up and making things happen.
Neco Williams impressed during Wales’ draw with Albania at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday
The boy from Cefn Mawr, near Wrexham, has certainly had his share of challenges at Liverpool. Not least the stress fracture in his spine discovered on his first day of pre-season under Steven Gerrard’s Under-18s. While his contemporaries worked with the Liverpool legend, he was initially not even able to enter the gym.
He was a part of the young side that drew 5-5 with Arsenal and won on penalties — a night, the season before last, when Mesut Ozil revealed the small margin for error at the top level. Williams’ ball out of defence put a 16-year-old Harvey Elliott under pressure. Within seconds Ozil had pounced and Bukayo Saka scored.
There was also the Champions League home defeat by Atalanta in a very young side last November and the mistake during a 7-2 hammering of Lincoln City in the Carabao Cup which prompted such levels of online abuse that Williams briefly deleted his Twitter account.
But Jurgen Klopp has always considered this to be a part of the process. For Williams, one of the abiding memories of the season just past will be the sight of the manager enveloping him in a hug after another young Liverpool side had beaten Ajax to secure progress to the Champions League knockout stage.
Williams provided the vital assist for Curtis Jones that night.
It was because of Williams’ development that Ki-Jana Hoever left for Wolves as leverage for Diogo Jota’s arrival last summer. Nuno Espirito Santo wanted Williams as part of the deal but Klopp, who had offered him a five-year deal last August, was not interested. ‘Thank God that Neco is now here, he said.
It is Williams’ flexibility that Wales interim manager Rob Page likes. He can play him either side of defence. He was a left-sided midfielder, man-marking Paul Pogba, before his dismissal against France.
He was at his best in the second half against Albania. Page’s favoured 3-5-2 did not work and it was when Cardiff City striker Kieffer Moore was introduced after the break that the team looked balanced.
The young Liverpool defender will certainly leave it all out on the pitch in Azerbaijan
There was a glimpse of a combination that could pay a major dividend when Manchester City’s 21-year-old Matt Smith manoeuvred the ball into Williams’ path in the second half. Williams’ strike was Wales’ best attempt in a goalless game.
The debate in Wales this week will revolve around whether Moore should start against the Swiss, with Aaron Ramsey behind him.
Equally significant is Williams’ deployment on the right, in a system which gives him space to run into. Wales need to reap maximum benefit from the player everyone’s singing about.