Gor Mahia Selection
Nuttal’s selection was largely expected as the team was without their new acquisitions (signed after CAF deadline) except for the fact that he put out a weak midfield. His option for the day was a flat 4-4-2; evidently not worried by his opponent’s midfield capabilities and, theoratically, setting up to play an offensive vertical attack game.
Boniface Oluoch; Musa Mohammed, Kevin Oluch, Shakava, Glay; Walusimbi, Aucho, “Gattuso”, Timothy Otieno; George Odhiambo, Michael Olunga.
The manner in which the game started foreshadowed an attcking-fest; even the pundits predicted. AC Leopards, set in a 4-3-3, pushed high to close passing lanes for the home team but Gor Mahia looked to play long passes behind the defense, principally, for Olunga and “Blackberry” to run at. So much so that Gor Mahia created two dangerous moments in the opening minutes, both times seeing Olunga get to the ball on AC Leopard’s blind side.
Unfortunately (for the high turn-over enthusiasts), AC Leopard adapted almost immediately. They shifted into the 4-3-3 variant of 4-1-4-1. This allowed them to press Gor Mahia’s defensive players to prevent frequency of the long passes and they kept their fullbacks from advancing forward. Though it did take them time to handle Gor Mahia’s strategy of having their strikers make diagonal runs to test the Congolese side’s positioning discpline. AC Leopard, a predominantly energetic team, now looked to build patiently and depend on combinational passes to curve out chances. A task they struggled with.
Nuttal’s strategy was different from Williamson’s at this stage last year though both were intent on goals. The latter was relying on combinations in the wings whereas Nuttal looked for 1 vs 1 scenarios. The Gor Mahia fullbacks were under clear instructions not to bomb forward so he expected his wingers to work hard; vacillating between 4-4-2 and 4-2-4 formations. The formation he chose does depend on the flanks to work but it needs a box to box midfielder to help upfront; Khalid Aucho, but he was not free to do this in the first half. K’ogallo, though, must be commended for stiffling AC Leopard from creating chances. Though they got a little help from 4-1-4-1’s striker isolation, their positional discipline prevented the visitor’s passing strategy from working (dominating possession in the midfield through outnumbering). On the offensive aspect they didn’t change from their approach despite being shackled. Leopard’s periodical pressing prevent Gor Mahia from making the long passes and a combination of poor spacing between the respective lines plus being poor on the ball at the back prevented them from creating opportunities through build-ups. Infact, they relied on the wingers to link midfield and attack but their dribbling and decision making was not up to standard (they did earn set-pieces though).
As the game resumed, I expected more of the same cautiousness by both teams subsequently fizzling to a lifeless draw. This until complacency (needless to say, forgivable in the KPL) by the Gor Mahia defense earned AC Leopard a goal out of nothing early in the half. A speculative long pass, ironic, found their attacker Gandze and he volleyed home just on the edge of the area having been poorly closed down.
It was hard to take and the pundit plus myself thought Gor Mahia would switch immediately to a 4-4-1-1 system to try and improve the link up between midfield and attack. Instead, Nuttal tasked Aucho with more freedom in bombing forward; this only served to move him out of position and he commited cynical fouls as he struggled to stop Leopard’s transitions. The Congolese now looked to keep tight in their zones and depended on long balls to create chances behind Gor Mahia’s defense line- the side pushing higher for a goal. This didn’t create trouble as they showed weaknesses in running behind and beating offside traps.
For a team like Gor Mahia, playing a possession style is near-impossible. One needs good skill on the ball all round, that is the defensive players too must be adept at playing the ball otherwise the midfield will be isolated during pressure. So Nuttal’s decision at this stage to improve ball movement was bringing in Ali Abondo (not fit to start) who drifted inside to offer a passing option but the fullback didin’t run into the minimal spaces he created. Another shortcoming for Gor Mahia was that they didn’t have more ball players to call into the game and they relied on pacy players as game-changing subs. Unfortunately, pacy players are more useful at the start of games as teams usually play higher up the pitch.
This is indeed a bitter pill to swallow as Gor Mahia showed relatively tactical discipline to earn a draw but this is the CAF Champions League. They need more creativity in the team to improve in terms of build up, linkage and transitions. Nevertheless, Nuttal showed he is more pragmatic for continental football but they fall yet again in the first round.