Balogun/Ekong,Omeruo/Ekong,Awaziem/Ekong,Ajayi/Ekong: which is best combo?

In the local media, Super Eagles centre back William Troost-Ekong was quoted as stating that his preferred Super Eagles centre defence partner is Wigan's Leon Balogun with whom he enjoyed success in a number of games during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers between 2016 and 2017.

Believing that he and Balogun have 'good understanding' playing alongside each other, Ekong said: "It always makes it easier when you have the same kind of mentality because you can understand each other well and you make good decisions together".

However, questions remain as to the best defensive partnership for the Super Eagles since Rohr took over as Super Eagles Gaffer in 2016.

I will now explore the options:

Ekong - Balogun: in the minds of many Super Eagles fans, this combination seems to inspire considerable confidence due to the chemistry they have struck.

Ekong appears to know when Balogun is over committed and then races through to clear up behind him.

There appears to be this symmetry which makes communication more seamless. The fact that only one of them is more error-prone (Ekong) makes this combo a balanced and complementary one.

Key match(es) : the back-to-back world cup qualifiers against Cameroon in 2017 and the home qualifier against Zambia showed this combo at its best with timely communication and effectiveness in defensive combinations.

Omeruo - Ekong: an instant drawback of this combination is that both players are error-prone which chips away at any confidence fans would have in their paring.

They also play similar styles in that each is fluid and mobile with the tendency to tackle first and think later - as seen of Ekong at the World Cup against Croatia.

They both launch into tackle in manners that leaves them over-committed with scope for much error.

However, one good thing about this combination is that they have goals in them. Very rarely does Balogun/Ekong combo produces goals however, in just 5 matches in the 2019 Afcon, Ekong and Omeruo scored 2 goals between them.

Also, they are both pacey and have decent recovery rates.

Whilst they are both decent defenders, this combo will always be slightly rough around the edges.

Key matches: this combo produced 2 clean sheets and 2 goals to helped propel Nigeria to the semi-finals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Awaziem - Ekong : this combination got off to the most disastrous of fashions when miscommunication between the two gifted Tokelo Ranti a free header for South Africa's first goal in an Afcon qualifier on 10 June 2017. To compound matters, both of them were nowhere to be found when Percy Tau ran and rounded off Akpeyi for their second goal which condemned Nigeria to our first defeat against South Africa in a competitive fixture.

These days, Awaziem plays more as a full back for the Super Eagles. His pairing with Ekong will seem weak. They both appear slightly similar in approach but might also not always be on the same page.

I think they are better left apart - unless we are desperate.

Ajayi - Ekong: against Benin and Lesotho, the combination conceded early thereby putting the Super Eagles on the back foot against less fancied oppositions. The truth is that this combo is still very fresh hence they need time to develop a level of understanding that will make them to function with telepathic symmetry.

On this face of it, this duo has the tendency to develop into something like the Ekong-Balogun partnership. Ekong's brashness can be tempered by Ajayi's poise and polished approach.

Ajayi's ability to read the game can help alert Ekong to potential dangers as they emerg with the right strategies to address the threats. Both have the tendency of being on the same page with their agreed tackles and interceptions.

This combination can work.


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