Ahead of next month's make or mar qualifiers against the the Black Stars of Ghana, i look which formation holds the most promise for Nigeria moving forward.
Personally, I am an exponent of the 3-5-2 formation as I think it can harness and unlock the killer instincts in our players. But the 4-4-2 formation that Eguavoen used in the Afcon can also take Nigeria places and help push the boundaries of success. I recorded all our Afcon games and continue to study them. So, I spliced the win against Egypt with the loss to Tunisia and discovered the following; – the same 4-4-2 set up was used on inception of both games. – against Egypt, the two wingers were often behind the 2 attackers (not on a near parallel line). They (wingers) were alive to their defensive responsibilities which included funnelling back to support the DM and FBs – so Ndidi was not short of support. – infact, if you watch closely, the main center forward, Awoniyi, often operated behind the support striker (Iheanacho), making Awoniyi’s runs unpredictable to the Egyptians and also providing additional body for Nigeria in midfield. – noteworthy is the fact that Chukwueze’s performance was best when supporting Ndidi and Aina (which Chukwueze performed with dedication and diligence). – in-game, the formation fluctuated between 4-4-1-1 and 4-3-3 at times with Simon, Iheanacho and Awoniyi staying up front and Chukwueze dropping deep in right midfield to support Ndidi and Aribo. In short, it was an offensive formation with a defensive orientation. Eguavoen accorded the Egyptians the required level of respect which paid off. He was alive to need to defend and then transition to attack with less flair but more focus and fortitude. But against Tunisia: – the same starting line up with the same 4-4-2 formation was used from the outset. – however, as the game progressed, the shape morphed into more of 4-2-4 (a reckless approach that they got away with against Sudan and Guinea Bissau) – you had the wingers (Simon and Chukwueze) pushed far further forward so that they are almost in line with the 2 strikers. The wingers were not that tuned in to defensive duties as they had been against Egypt. – Ndidi and Aribo were often left to their own devices in midfield. I rewatched and paused the match on occasions and you could see Ndidi at Nigeria’s end of the midfield and Aribo at Tunisia’s end with no less than 4 Tunisian players lurking between them! I think Eguavoen allowed himself to get carried away with the wins against Sudan and Guinea Bissau. He inadvertently abandoned the defensive sinews that held the same formation together against Egypt which gave it the mixture of professionalism and pragmatism needed to get the job done. Eguavoen didn’t accord the Tunisias with enough respect. He allowed all the razzmatazz around Simon’s group stage performances get to his (Eguavoen’s) head and he lowered his defensive guard, which the Tunisians made him pay for, badly.
Going forward, should he persist with that 4-4-2 formation, I suggest he revisits the match against Egypt to see what made it so effective. And offensive arrangement with a defensive undertone is what I think is the way forward for Eguavoen.
He should NEVER underestimate any opposition even if Covid has reduced the players to just one goalkeeper on the pitch!
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