4-4-2 v 4-4-2
As is almost customary in the Tusker Premier League, both teams favoured a 4-4-2 formation.
This formation is the most basic of formations; the easiest to interpret and to implement. Its popularity comes from its simplicity. Arsene Wenger once remarked that it was the essence of reason.
“I think it’s simply the most rational formation in most cases. In fact, it’s the essence of reason. With a 4-4-2, 60% of your players are occupying 60% of the pitch. No other formation is as efficient at covering space.”
However, those remarks were made prior to the liberalisation of the offside rule, which as Jonathan Wilson argues, expanded the playing area. Thus, the midfield space is much bigger, and it is due to this that the more complex 4-2-3-1 has gained popularity in world football.
The 4-2-3-1 though has not yet overtaken the 4-4-2 as the games marquee formation. It is still being used, but when put up against each other as was the case here, two things happen,
a) With equality being matched across the field, games become a matter of superiority of individuals in each team rather than of system. Thus, as even the later game between Gor Mahia and Karuturi Sports showed, it is the team with individuals who can capitalise on their chances that has the more likely chance of winning, and not the team playing the better football.
b) Because the midfield area is much bigger, lots of spaces open up, thus the game becomes frantic and end to end. It has become increasingly difficult for the two midfielders in the middle to cover the whole midfield area while performing both attacking and defensive roles. They are therefore bypassed easily and the games becomes loose (while at the same time, exciting and end to end).
Width v Center
The most interesting thing though about the game, especially in the first half, was how both teams implemented their 4-4-2.
Tusker looked to crowd the center. Their wingers, Ali Abondo, and Robert Omunuk, did not hug the touchline like most typical wingers do, but rather came inside to look for the ball. This may have been a consequence of coming in to help the central midfielders. But it was clearly evident from the first chance created in the game. Jesse Were, the center forward peeled off wide and set up Abondo, who was now running in from a central position. Abondo’s shot though hit teammate Ismael Dunga and deflected away for a goal kick.
This meant that the width had to be provided by the full backs, Kennedy Opiyo and especially Luke Ochieng, who kept whipping in the crosses.
Kakamega Homeboyz on the other hand played the 4-4-2 in the old fashioned way and looked to release their wingers with midfield passes in behind the full backs. Ronald Otieno on the right hand side was mostly the recipient of these passes, and it seemed that Homeboyz were targeting Opiyo, who was in for the injured Aboud Omar and looked a bit rusty at left back.
It thus produced the pattern of the first half. Tusker attacking through the center, Homeboyz counter-attacking down the wings.
Second Half Substitutes
In the second half, there was no real tactical progression, and both coaches looked for more of the same from their players. As the physical levels went down, they both introduced like for like changes, seeking to refresh rather than to reposition their tactical setup.
The only substitution of some tactical consequence was that of Andrew Murunga, for the visibly exhausted Dunga. Murunga functioned slightly behind Were, who now assumed a static no. 9 role. It thus seemed to slightly alter Tusker’s formation to a more 4-4-1-1 like formation, but it was in essence still a variation of the 4-4-2 but with more pace.
The Tusker goal was from a defensive mistake by Homeboyz. As a corner was cleared, the defensive line did not push up high enough to catch the Brewers offside. This meant that once Luke Ochieng whipped in his cross, Collins Otieno in goal did not have the right starting position – he was still on his line because the defence had not pushed high enough for him to get off it and once the ball came in, there was too much space in front of him to merely ignore it. He was thus in a dilemma which told as he came out but was too late to prevent David Ochieng from scoring the header.
Homeboyz would again almost become masters of their own undoing later on. Late in the second half Titus Wamalwa miscontrolled a ball that let in Were through on goal but the chance was thwarted by Otieno.
Homeboyz played well, but despite their joy down the right hand side for periods of the first half, they could not create the chances required. Of note was that they never once forced the Tusker center backs into desperate or last ditch tackling. Samuel Odhiambo was not troubled in the Tusker goal and Homeboyz lacked that killer edge.
Tusker coach Robert Matano must have heaved a sigh of relief at the end of the game, but the fact is his side has just won two on the trot. It could be the start of a mini-revival but even so, he will be concerned with how his team played without hunger and drive. Against a more determined side, he may not have been so lucky with the amount of space enjoyed on the right hand side by Homeboyz.