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.