It was only twenty minutes into the game when I concluded that the southwest derby was the best game I had seen from a tactical point of view in the NPFL this season. Okay, I have only seen two games live and a couple via streams and that’s probably a small sample size to reach that conclusion, but still, I persist.
When the fixture list for the season was released, this game was the first one I marked out. It wasn’t for the reason(social media buzz/rivalry) many other people did though. For me, this was a standout fixture principally because of the men in the dugout.
Daniel Ogunmodede and Paul Offor are two of my favorite coaches in the country right now. Their contrasting personalities and the way they talk the game is quite interesting but it’s how they set up their teams that fascinates me the most.
Both men play high-risk football and are flexible with their in-game management but on Sunday, it was Ogunmodede who came out top in that tactical battle that had a couple of twists.
Identical Systems, Alternate Roles
Both men set out with their preferred 3-5-2 formations but that was the only similarity in their systems. In possession, Sporting built with four while Remo maintained the same shape in and out of possession. That little tweak in the first phase helped Sporting beat the Remo press as Balogun Ozaveche was always available for the out ball when Sikiru Alimi and Frank Mawuena occupied the center-backs.
But the big difference in both systems was the use of the wingbacks. Both managers tried to maximize the skillset of their widemen. In Sodiq Ismail, Ogunmodede has arguably the best crosser of a ball in the league. So, it was easy to see why he asked him to stay wide and float balls into the box. Seun Ogunribide meanwhile had a different role. He acted as the third man in attack when Remo ventured forward and he could have gotten a couple of goals if he had been more clinical.
For Offor, pace and trickery was his weapon. Clement Naantuam played what was probably his best game in a Sporting shirt on Sunday. He started wide but when he got the ball he looked to drift infield and drag markers with him. It was from one of his mazy inward runs that he ghosted past two before supplying the assist for Jonathan Alukwu to open the scoring.
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Odibo on his part had a more conventional role. He held the width for Sporting and looked to get to the byline and put in balls for teammates.
It was a good game to study the varying roles wing-backs can take in a system. And except for Seun who was hooked at halftime, you could say the other guys had a great game.
Two Can Still Play Up Top
Recently, Super Eagles coach, Jose Peseiro started playing two strikers in national team games. That’s a move away from the one-up top that many coaches prefer these days. That system has allowed the Portuguese to use more of the attacking talents he’s got at his disposal and the results too have been good.
And it seems that’s what Ogunmodede and Offor are doing with their teams. Both managers have started with two strikers in each of their four games this season. On Sunday it was Sikiru Alimi and Frank Mawuena for Remo while Alukwu partnered Junior Lokasa for the ‘Tech Boys’.
Sikiru and Mawuena put their big frames to good use, winning aerial duels and laying off for teammates arriving into the spaces left by Sporting when they attacked. Their presence in attack also meant Salaudeen couldn’t make his usual ball carries from defense into midfield. It was the first time Ogunmodede played with both men in attack, and he was pleased by what he saw.
“Our plan was to try and exploit their weaknesses in defense. There were too many spaces in front of their goal and we tried to use Sikiru and Mawuena’s strength to get the ball down for teammates,” he explained after the game.
What the Sporting forwards lacked in height, they compensated with strength and industry. The ‘Noisy Lagosians’ pressed high from the off and the effectiveness of their press was down to Lokosa and Alukwu. The forwards were well coordinated in their pressing of the Remo center backs, cutting out the passing lanes through the middle and forcing them into rushed long balls. There were one or two turnovers which they however failed to put to good use.
I don’t know if the new system for Sporting is down to injuries ravaging the team or if it had always been the plan for Offor to set up this way this season. It will be interesting to see if he sticks to this when everyone is available for selection.
Specialized Set-piece Routines
Although this yielded no tangible result on the day, it was good to see teams putting thoughts into set plays. Recognizing the deficiency they had in height, Sporting went short with their corners to create angles before delivering balls. This worked well as Lokosa got on the end of two crosses but couldn’t keep his headers on target. For free-kicks, Henry Ndedi looked to test Kayode Bankole from range, maybe with the hope that he might drop a clanger. Kayode was on his game on Sunday and gave nothing away.
Remo’s corner kick routine for this game was heavily targeted at the box six. It wasn’t the first time they had taken this approach but in previous games, they mixed it up. I am not sure what the intention was but like Bankole, Christian Nwoke dominated his area with some good claims.
The routines might not have been productive in this game but they look to be on to something. What their dynamism in set plays couldn’t achieve in this game could be what earns them points in another game.
Flowing With The Tide
Both teams were inseparable in the first half but it was Ogunmodede who outsmarted his opposite number in the second. After a serious downpour at half-time which caused the game to be delayed for over an hour, it was the home dugout that reacted best to the new conditions.
Seun Ogunribide was subbed off for Adams Olamilekan as Ogunmodede switched to a back four and a diamond midfield. Speaking on why he made the switch the 43-year-old said: “The weather was bad and we knew we would resort to long balls. And because they were defending with five, we needed more bodies in attack. They had a lot of bodies in the box. We knew we could get something with balls into the box.”
That bit of foresight by him ultimately produced the chance for the deciding moment of the game. Dayo Ojo who was now playing on the right of Dan’s diamond put a hopeful ball into the box and Ozaveche handled it while trying to clear. Sikiru Alimi scored the resulting penalty to help his team to maximum points.
Ogunmodede was a happy man post-match after seeing his tweak yield result. Sunday was the first of many battles between these two in a competitive setting, there will be more in the future, and hopefully, they serve the same or more excitement.