Analysis: Kimanzi holds out to beat Matano

Photo: Betway

Photo: Betway

Mathare United XI: Kasaya- Benard Omondi, George Owino, Robinson Kamura, David Mwangi- Whyvonne Isuza, Edward Seda, Crispinus Oduor- Eric Johanna, Daniel Mwaura, Obadiah Ndege.

Ulinzi Stars XI: James Saruni- Birgen, Oliver Ruto, Sande, Kokoyo- Boniface Onyango, Samuel Onyango, Churchil Muloma, Oscar Wamalwa- John Makwatta, Cliff Kasuti.

Two of Kenya’s four elite coaches, Francis Kimanzi and Robert Matano, faced off as the Kenya Premier League’s second leg kicked off. Mathare United stuck to their 4-3-3 while Ulinzi played a 4-2-4 formation.

High turnover

In this match, Ulinzi preferred to bypass their midfield when launching attacks. Their long balls forward made them look dangerous but, in honesty, they did not trouble the goalkeeper. But in pushing four players upfront Matano’s men prevented Mathare United building up from the back. This also had the effect of creating a porous middle zone thus both teams found it easy to reach the final third.

Mathare United created their chances by pouncing on the many balls Ulinzi lost. In the first ten minutes they had come close to scoring on two occasions. While the soldiers hoofed it from defence to wide areas, the Mathare side tried to find runners behind Ulinzi’s defence from central areas of the pitch. Edward Seda and Eric Johanna took up positions to deliver those passes.

In-game management

Francis Kimanzi’s defenders had been sitting deeper allowing Ulinzi’s style to flourish. Their stronger wide players would hold the long passes well. So Kimanzi had Mathare adopt a higher line and this exposed technical deficiency in the Ulinzi side.

First they conceded after losing the ball, and then they had successive offside calls made against them. Sometimes the offside is a result of the ball being released late but on this occasion the balls were being released early. The striker showed poor awareness and a lot of agitation.

Mathare dominate 

Ulinzi Stars had 4 players ahead of the ball waiting at almost all times. Whether they had possession in midfield and pass options were required or whether Mathare United were in possession. In contrast, Mathare’s wide players would drop back to help in building up attacks. You can only blame Mathare United for not seeing the game off in the first half. They lacked the patience that would have made for more dangerous chances created.

The approach by Ulinzi was a little baffling. They played it wide and hoped the winger would beat his man the send in crosses. But there was one problem. You need to shift the defence to one side then release a winger or fullback for 1v1 situations on the other side. To shift the opposition defenders around you have to pass the ball around in central areas of the pitch. I do not recall Ulinzi making even four passes in midfield.

They passed wide against a defense whose structure was intact. Either the Mathare fullbacks stuck narrow, knowing Ulinzi’s wide men couldn’t succeed moving in field, or they stuck tight to them as the wingers were handicapped in close control situations.

Physicality is important

Yet again, Mathare United showed they simply don’t have the fitness to win the league. They couldn’t keep dominating in the second half. We know it is a question of fitness for two reasons. First, too many Kenya Premier League games burn out by minute 60. Secondly, Tusker never backed out of Kimanzi’s philosophy.

They started by committing niggly challenges that gifted too many set pieces to Ulinzi. Then they sat back, allowing themselves to come under a lot of pressure. You could see that the Ulinzi players were much fitter only that they chose a wrong approach to break down a team defending deep.

Analysis: Kenyan Zesco trio in the CAF Champions League

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Photo: Pic Center

Thursday was a historic night for Kenyan football. Three of our very own players played a match in the CAF Champions League group stage. The Kenyan contingent at Zesco all got playing time against Wydad Casablanca. This phase will be expanded next year and hopefully 2016 Kenya Premier League champions will feature.

I missed Zesco’s victory over Al Ahly but so did Jesse Were. It works out. Back to this, the match against Wydad Casablanca showed why some of us advocate for Kenyan players to stick around. The opponent’s quality faced by Akumu, Owino and Were is better than sitting out games in some sterile European environment. Besides, qualifiers to tournaments Kenya no longer goes to will involve travel to these venues to face those fans. Enough romanticism, I think.

David ‘Calabar’ Owino

Kenya’s very own ball playing defender was doing something very different in Casablanca. He was asked to stick very tightly to the Wydad Casablanca striker; Fabrice Ondama. He man-marked him every time his zone was encroached to prevent the striker from turning. But Zesco still conceded an early goal.

Zesco were being destroyed from the flanks. Their wrong approach to this game (high line without high press) saw the side run towards their goal every time Wydad attacked. Owino looked good when he stood next to Ondama but had no chance when the ball and the players moved fast. It was this course of events that made him score an own goal as well.

Anthony Akumu

Aside from regular deep continental runs by KPL sides, Akumu being utilized is well is one thing I agitate for in the Kenyan game. He showed how good he is in the CAF Champions League too. In the first half he was inhibited. Akumu was required to stick around the centre circle and make passes to teammates also gathered around the center circle. This made it very easy for Wydad to press and win the ball back.

When they came from the break, Zesco had to chase the game and this gave Akumu freedom to do his thing. He showed glimpses of his ability to switch play from flank to flank and that of picking out open players instead of the boring lateral and backward passes we know Harambee Stars loves. An adventurous Zesco managed to create a 1v1 situation but this is Africa so the striker failed to score.

Jesse Were
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Last year’s Kenya Premier League top scorer returned from injury as a late sub against Wydad Casablanca. He was not involved too much in play but we know he should never be. Lwandamina, his coach at Zesco, called him a finisher. This means Were can only thrive in a team that creates chances; something Zesco do and Francis Kimanzi’s style resulted in at Tusker FC. Unfortunately, this is still lacking in the national team.

Versatile Gor Mahia outlasts Mathare United

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Photo: Gor Mahia Official Website

Mathare United XI: Peter Odhiambo- Noah Abich, David Mwangi, George Owino, Robinson Kamura- Edward Seda, Whyvonne Isuza, Chrispin Oduor- Erick Johanna, Daniel Mwaura, Derrick Onyango.

Gor Mahia XI: Boniface Oluoch- Karim Nizigiyimana, Eric Ouma, Musa Mohammed, Haron Shakava- Collins Okoth, Innocent Wafula, Khalid Aucho- Jacques Tuyisenge, George Odhiambo, Godfrey Walusimbi.

In this eagerly awaited match, both teams fielded 4-3-3 line-ups that smoothly changed to 4-4-2/4-5-1 without the ball.

Setting a high bar for kpl

For a moment I forgot I was watching a Kenya Premier League match. Such is the manner in which the game began. The tempo was high enough and there was a great atmosphere at the stadium.

Mathare United and Gor Mahia, both, pressed with a lot of intensity to prevent circulation of the ball by the opponent. This also caused the high stat count of fouls committed. I guess it really was Dutch’s totale voetbal vs Samba’s joga bonito. 

We witnessed an instance of Francis Kimanzi’s ideology, when his team swarmed forward. The striker pressed Boniface Oluoch and, fascinatingly, three of his teammates closed down the K’ogalo defenders. That is not something you see in KPL. Usually, it’s a lonely striking tiring himself out to chase balls he could never win.

Versatile Gor Mahia

The press put the game in a deadlock situation. Hardly any chances were being created leave alone shots on goal. 

Gor Mahia responded to this by reverting to their direct approach. Only on this occasion they showed how much they have evolved as a team. Too bad there are always administrative squabbles when we need them to show it in the CAF Champions League.

They were simply not hoofing the ball to a tall striker to hold up play. Gor Mahia were taking advantage of Mathare’s high positioning to play vertical passes and high passes to their forwards.

Without their build ups, Mathare United did not show similar resourcefulness. Instead, they depended on counter pressing (winning the ball back after losing it) to try and create chances.

Kimanzi sits back

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Photo: Soka

Francis Kimanzi is among the few idealist coaches in Kenya. Thus, I must admit I was a little bemused to see his team sit back in the second half.

Mathare ditched the high press to avoid being caught behind the defensive line. This caused the tempo to lull and stifle the opportunities of chance creation. The Slum Boys were compact in their flat back four. They positioned themselves equidistant from one another and conducted their zonal marking with admirable discipline. In the 60th minute there was no shot on target.

Onus on Gor Mahia

The onus was thus on the Kenyan champions to resuscitate the contest. Gor Mahia’s response was to allow their fullbacks to maraud. It’s amazing how Gor Mahia can unearth another fullback, Eric Ouma, yet Harambee Stars often positions center backs wide.

I once compared Walusimbi to Harrison Afful in my appeals to have him graduated to a midfielder. He didn’t let me down in scoring a goal similar to Afful’s CAF Champions League 2011 winning goal.

At this moment Mathare United was out of it physically. They were not helped by the structure altering substitutions. The players proved unable to reorganize themselves and came under sustained pressure that culminated in a Tuyisenge tap in.

Conclusion

In 2013, I waited for either Sofapaka or Tusker to match Gor Mahia and they failed. This year, the tactically interesting team of Mathare United failed as well. They simply didn’t have the personnel to go toe to toe with K’ogalo for the full 90.

What is Kenya Premier League’s style of play?

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Photo: Voice of Sport

As a Kenya Premier League fan, I’m sure you lament about the lack of stats and general info about the game you love. You also can’t point a finger to Kenyan football’s style of play. Do we even have such an identity?

Football identity not only builds on the pride fans have for their favourite badges but it also provides for seamless transition from generation to generation. The most famous is Total Football of the Netherlands. Kenya’s identity has no name yet but we can deduce from trends we see in the national team selection and how the game is approached locally.

It’s not easy to do because tactical management of Kenyan football is not systemic. It’s not in the way we are renowned as middle and long distance runners; when it comes to athletics.

I’ve mentioned before that to understand football you have to watch grassroots football. This is where young footballers are shaped and their norms established. A product of our youth football was stated by Luc Eymael (former AFC Leopards coach). He said that Kenyan footballers “are not used to thinking tactically.”

When you think tactically you play in an organized manner. This is why European football is the pinnacle of football. While they may have fewer stars compared to South America, when it comes to quality of average footballers they are peerless. The Kenya Premier League does not pay too much attention to the basics of tactics. These include compaction, movement and positioning. It is why I have to spend every year smarting from our clubs crashing out of the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup.

Youth football in Kenya is largely desperate. The approach is not one of directing and managing but one of jostling to breakthrough into professional football. That is why the Harambee Stars U20 team was banned for age cheating.

Without proper attention given to fledgling footballers, we end up with pretty raw stuff. This raw stuff is thus our identity. It’s what you watch and what I have featured here many times. In the next piece I will bring out the personnel in the game and approach by our coaches.

Kenya loses despite dominating Guinea Bissau

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credit: Stafford Ondiego, sportpicha

Harambee Stars XI: Arnold Origi- Musa Mohammed, James Situma, Brian Mandela, David Owino- Patillah Omoto, Victor Wanyama, Eric Johanna, Johanna Omolo, Clifton Miheso- Michael Olunga

In his debut match, Stanley Okumbi named an expected line-up. Aside from the inclusion of Patillah Omoto, the pool of players was where any of us would have drawn from. Okumbi had Olunga upfront alone and packed the midfield in a very narrow line-up.

First half

The game started with a friendly tempo, for a professional footballer, and I thought it was just bottom-of-the-group sides sizing one another. But it played out for the entire first half. No complaints though it was a delightful half.

Harambee Stars pressed in midfield and because the game was so slow it was easily noticeable. They gave Guinea Bissau room to build from the back. The home side chose wisely as they would have no chance with goalkicks seeing that Kenya outmatched them in height. When the build-up reached midfield the Kenyan midfielders would attack the ball carrier, individually, from their respective zones.

Pressing inefficiency

I know that Kenya was playing conservatively, being the away team, but the poor pressing mechanism was disappointing (from a MYSA coach). If you are going to tire your players by asking them to chase balls down, then efficiency should be your go to word. Otherwise you burn the players out for the closing phases when you are desperate for magic or need to concentrate on seeing out a result.

The first instance was the lonely pressing forays by Olunga. I know it happens on lapses, but typically one player cannot win the ball back. Secondly, there was the aforementioned middle press. I have written many times here; if you attack the ball carrier you must also close down his passing options, passing lanes or both. Otherwise, you are exhausting your players as the opponent recycles possession in midfield.

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credit: Stafford Ondego, sportpicha

Narrow Kenya

It was not all gloomy though (don’t listen to the media frenzy). Okumbi fielded a narrow side and this helped in keeping possession. Harambee Stars was involved in a lot of short passes. This is due to the number of options in the central parts of the pitch. There were no true fullbacks and no true wingers either. Miheso will always be a leftback in my books.

Kenya also took advantage of Guinea Bissau’s susceptibility to pressing many times. They turned over possession many times from midfield and were on the front foot for most of the game. Even the goal was scored against the run of play.

No options from the bench

Kenya’s dominance failed to bear fruits because they couldn’t stretch Bissau at key moments. A little width would have created space in the channels for Olunga to sneak into as he did so often for Gor Mahia. Unfortunately, Okumbi had no wingers at his beck.

Instead, he brought on Jesse Were to add a body upfront and tried to send crosses into the box. It’s a simple and most desperate mechanism to claw yourself back into a game. Well, second only to relying on set pieces.
Harambee Stars also did well to put men inside their opponent’s defensive block. Except there was one problem; they didn’t get the ball to their feet.

Conclusion

We lost away from home. This all but ends our chances for a place in AFCON 2017. In the context of the match though, this was a palatable performance from the Stars. Guinea Bissau being a weak team notwithstanding. Forget the return match; I wait to see what a better line up can do.

Gor Mahia 0-1 Bandari: Risk averse Bandari win Supercup

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credit: Kevin Odit, NairobiNews

Gor Mahia XI: Oluoch- Musa Mohammed, Harun Shakava, Nzigiyimana, Sibomana- Luke Ochieng, Collins Okoth, Walusimbi, ‘Blackberry’- Jacob Keli, Agwanda.

Bandari FC XI: Obungu- Duncan Otewa, David Gateri, Mohammed Shariff, Felly Mulumba- Humphrey Okoti, Musa Mudde, Shaban kenga, Edwin Lavatsa, Anthony Kimani- Dan Sserunkuma.

Francis Nuttal’s dramatic return to Gor Mahia was coupled with Luke stepping in for Aucho and Jacob Keli and Agwanda filling the vacancy of last season’s prolific attacking duo.

Bandari put on show their revamped squad ahead of charting into the uncharted waters of continental football in a five man midfield.

Disjointed Start
The game started with a good intensity. Unfortunately, it did not seem directed towards any goal- metaphorically. There was plenty of silly loss of possession, miscued passes and too many negative passes. Perhaps Gor Mahia can be forgiven as they did not have a player who could hold and distribute the ball in the pitch. Bandari, on the other hand, had numbers and a decent attacking midfield trio but were woeful in possession. When the ball got to the feets of Kenga, Kimani or Lavatsa there was a sense of danger but reliance on individuals against the experienced Gor Mahia defenders was fruitless.

Sserunkuma
The former Gor Mahia marksman played upfront alone. Supply to him was always over the top thus he never truly got a hold into the game. But you could see how much respect he got from Gor Mahia. The defenders stuck very tight to him. He would drift wide to the right to get them out of position and try and get space to run onto the danger area with the ball. In these instances, Anthony Kimani (who played well) would have bombed into the space created to receive passes but he is not a true no.10. Understandably, this instinct eluded him.

Bandari FC’s defence struggled at points with the twin strike force. I was particularly impressed by Agwanda’s decision making and general holding up of the ball. Is this a ‘lite’ version of KPL 2015 attack? You had a burly striker in Agwanda and a partner who can run into afforded spaces; Keli. Twice we saw Jacob Keli cause havoc at the far-post. Because he is not tall, he wouldn’t direct headers at goal. Instead, he brought in cut-backs- my favourite kind of chance creation from width. And unlike Bandari, K’ogallo always had runners into the box to try and take advantage. Collins Okoth’s close effort is a great example.

Numeric advantage not utilized
When Bandari played so casually 11 vs 10 I thought they were burning out Gor Mahia. I thought they would pass the ball to death then pounce on their red-carded opponents in the final phases. But Muhiddin’s charges were simply playing it safe. This happened while Gor Mahia kept belief in their style by sticking to a 4-3-2 layout before substitutions.

At the danger of falling into that bad behavior of moralizing football approaches, I was disappointed at Bandari FC. They deliberately brought the tempo to a standstill. They moved the ball around so slowly and switched the flanks so predictably even for a 10-man opponent.

Conclusion
From this game we learnt that Gor Mahia will still be a strong title challenger. I know predictions can discredit an expert but Bandari FC is a top 5 candidate yet they still accorded too much respect. I also have to laud Anthony Kimani and Obungu for standing out in the game and watch out for Dan Sserunkuma.

Kenya 1-0 Cape Verde: Harambee Stars deliver decent performance

credit: Michezo Afrika

credit: Michezo Afrika

The blog has lulled for a while; the utterly dominant Gor Mahia really hogged the interesting tactical observations. Largely thanks to a horrible season by the other traditional heavyweights. The 2015 season done and dusted, Harambee stars came back to the forefront with a surprising (indeed) 1-0 home win over Cape Verde. The following are power points from the game:

Victor Wanyama is a defensive midfielder

We all admire that our captain Victor Wanyama has made it to the upper echelon of world football. Yet it is disconcerting that he saw more of the ball than any other midfielder. With two players more comfortable with the ball on their feet; Akumu and Omollo, it was amusing to see Wanyama labour to make passes and get into spaces. Wanyama’s role is that of a destroyer; shielding the central defense. It is important that the creative midfielders be individuals who can perform the difficult task of being most visionary player (s) with relative ease. Wanyama did well when he had to shield the ball but looked lost when he had to pick options or run into afforded space. On the contrary, the real number 8 Teddy Akumu was switching play without aerial diagonal passes.

David Owino is the real deal

It’s common knowledge that Owino is an impressive defender. He is mature and uncannily good on the ball. The Kenyan and Zambian league winner, unintentionally, appeared to be one of those showboating Brazilian marvels in how he would elaborately display his ability to release good passes from deep even under pressure.

Technique and decision making still below par

There’s no need to delve into the complexity of freekick and corner kick taking. When our Harambee Stars players got shooting opportunities the resultant shots were horrendous. The same can be said on proper decision making; a vital necessity with the split second breathing space when in the final third. If it weren’t a repeat offense we could reduce it to a simple lack of composure. This isn’t the case; the malaise is as systemic in our football as is corruption in our society. As Logarusic said, the tempo in the local league is too slow. Something which is a great factor in our producing of handicapped (figuratively) playmakers. This deserves its own piece.

Let’s keep it tentative ahead of the second leg. Meanwhile give the KPL Tactics Facebook page a like