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A slick Gor Mahia outclassed their rivals at the Kasarani Stadium on Saturday, coming away with a win that gives K’ogalo the edge in what is hotting up to be one of the closest Tusker Premier League title races in recent years.

Both sides are the Tusker Premier League, formally Kenyan Premier League’s, most successful teams having won the competition twenty four times between them.

Gor Mahia’s Croatian coach, Zdravko Logarusic went for his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, allowing for a large degree of positional rotation of the attacking front four. Anthony Akumu and Ali Abondo were the two chosen to provide a defensive screen in front of the back-line.

AFC Leopards boss Jan Koops opted for a 4-4-2 diamond formation, with strikers Alan Wanga and Mike Baraza leading the line and Martin Imbalambala sat off Floribert Ndayisaba as the sides defensive anchor. Centre backs Jonas and Masika were given the unenviable task of marking the leagues in-form front strikers; Rama Salim and Dan Sserunkuma.

K’ogalo’s interchanging front four

Gor Mahia are a side brimming with confidence, and this was evident in their approach to the first half. They moved the ball from their own defensive third with a degree of fluidity and assurance that Ingwe could not match. K’ogalo were helped by the energetic duo of Anthony Akumu and Ali Abondo taking up positive positions, in pockets of space, that allowed K’ogalo to effectively play the ball, on the ground, out of their half.

Once the ball had been transferred into the AFC Leopards half, they were faced with K’ogalo’s lethal front four who’s movement and high tempo interchanging caused havoc in the Ingwe defence. Omondi, Salim, Odhimabo and Sserunkuma all rotated their positions in the first half and Ingwe never seemed to grasp how best to track their movement on and off the ball. AFC Leopards problems were two fold; 1) They simply gave Gor Mahia’s front four far too much room in the attacking third and should have got much tighter on their markers. As a unit they should have also been looking to stay much more compact to prevent them from moving the ball around the edge of the penalty area with such ease, 2) Martin Imbalambala had a surprisingly poor first half display and gave Rama Salim too much time and space to operate around the penalty area.

(See diagram 1 showing the interchanging positions of Gor Mahia’s front four)

The greater confidence of the Gor Mahia players was evident when they were in 1v1 situations, as they were willing and able to effectively beat AFC Leopards defenders who were sluggish to close them down in the first half.

Another feature of the first half was how advanced the starting position of Gor Mahia’s wingers were in the transition. This allowed K’ogalo to get the ball into advanced wide areas, 1v1 situations, and run at Ingwe’s defense. Jan Koops would likely have been disappointed with how deep Mongoli and Okwembe were when his side regained possession, coupled with the flat performance of Ndayisaba in central midfield, left Wanga and Baraza as isolated figures upfront.

Without the ball Gor Mahia’s defence was well organised, patient and alert, which is what you’d expect from a side that have only conceded four goals in the second leg of the Tusker Premier League.

Ingwe switch their system

Jan Koops responded to his sides poor showing in the first half by altering his sides system early in the second half. On the forty seventh minute Paul Were was brought on for the ineffective Floribert Ndayisaba. Ingwe switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation, mirroring K’ogalo’s shape, with Were on the right, Okwambo cutting in from the left and Wanga playing off Baraza.

The change made sense so far as Ingwe needed to get their wingers into move advanced areas to support the two front men and the introduction of the pacy Paul Were lifted AFC Leopards attack by giving them more penetration down the right.

Ten minutes later the system switch had the desired effect, Wanga dropped off the back four and fed a cute reverse pass for Mike Baraza to latch onto and drive a shot across Onyango and into the far corner of the goal.

(See diagram 2 showing AFC Leopards attacking re-shuffle in the second half)

Logarusic immediately instructed Anthony Akumu to drop off Ali Abondo and become the sides deepest central midfielder and combat the influence of Wanga. The move worked, stifling the space that Wanga had earlier found. Gor Mahia held out to clinch the most important victory of their season and take a step closer to becoming to most successful domestic sides in Kenyan football history.

Another rigid defensive display from Burundi’s Atletico Olympic saw them hold Rwandan Primus League champions, APR, to a 0-0 draw at the 2012 CECAFA Kagame Cup, in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday.

As expected, Atletico Olympic’s coach, Cedric Kaze, named an unchanged line-up following his side’s impressive 2-0 win over Yanga on Saturday. Nahimana kept his place alongside two goal hero, Didier Kavumbagu, with defensive minded duo, Duhayindavyi and Ndayishimiye anchoring the centre of the Burundian’s midfield.

APR’s Dutch coach, Ernie Brandts, opted for a 4-4-2 formation, with Rwandan internationals Jean-Claude Iranzi, Olivier Karekezi, Jean-Claude Ndoli and Jean-Baptiste Mugiraneza in the starting eleven. Selemani Ndikumana  and Ugandan winger Dan Wagaluka were set to provide the side with advanced attacking options, in wide areas.

Atletico’s speed of recovery in the transition

APR dominated the early exchanges. The physicality and aggressiveness of Mugiraneza and Kabange in the centre of midfield gave the Rwandan’s an edge over the Burundian champions. But, despite having the ability to retain possession inside the midfield third, the narrow positioning of Atletico Olympic’s midfield four, particularly the close positioning of central midfield duo, Duhayindavyi and Ndayishimiye, meant that APR struggled to deliver penetrating forward passes into areas beyond Atletico Olympic’s midfield line.

It was not just this defensive positioning that enabled Atletico to restrict APR’s creative play, but the speed at which they were able to regain their defensive shape, in the turnover, made it even more difficult for the Rwandan’s to hurt their opponents on the counter.

(See diagram 1 showing Atletico Olympic’s defensive positioning)

Atletico also impressed with the speed of their counter attacks. The combination of Nahimana and Kavumbagu up front gave the Burundian’s two natural target men; both adapt at playing front and back to goal. In the turnover, central midfielder Ndayishimiye made several driving forward runs in support of his two strikers. The teams’ wingers, Kwizera and Mbazumutima, were also quick to take up narrow positions in support of the front two. With half an hour gone, and despite having enjoyed considerably less possession than their Rwandan counterparts, Atletico had had more shots on goal (5), compared with APR’s (1).

The importance of varied attacking options and tempo, in the attacking third

Despite dominating possession in the first half (61% to 39%) APR had only one attempt on goal. With Atletico’s midfield and defensive lines closely positioned, the Rwandan’s were in need of more varied attacking options and a higher tempo, in possession, to stretch and pull their opponents out of position.

Interestingly, rather than drawing Atletico out, by maintaining possession in deeper areas, or encouraging more sustained pressure from their opponents, APR attempted to force the Atletico defensive lines deeper, trying to open up space inside their half.

In the opening stages of the second half the focus of their attacks was down the flanks. In the transition, Kabange dropped deep to receive the ball from his back four before playing quick passes into wide areas, allowing Dan Wagaluka and Jean-Claude Iranzi to deliver crosses into the box from deeper positions. The key to this was the speed at which Kabange could deliver accurate passes to the wide areas, and the quality of Wagaluka and Iranzi crosses into the box.

The objective of this tactic was to force Atletico’s defensive line to step back into deeper areas; where, even if they were successful in clearing their lines, they would be likely to surrender space to APR’s attackers, 25-30 yards from goal. And with crosses now deliverable from deeper areas, it would force the Atletico’s wingers to press higher and wider; conceding more space in central areas, outside of the penalty area.

APR’s coach, Ernie Brandts, drew back Oliver Karekezi from the front two, playing him off St Preus, in a 4-4-1-1. This gave Karekezi more opportunities to play front to goal, feeding off knock down headers from St Preus.

(See the diagram below showing APR’s positioning in the attacking third, with the early crosses from wide areas)

However, the positioning and awareness of the Atletico centre backs, Karekezi and Nongwe, was a major factor in keeping the APR attacking unit at bay, denying them clear goalscoring opportunities from crosses into the box. Considering ARP’s clear height advantage, this is an area of their performance that coach Ernie Brandts must be disappointed with.

Much like Yanga before them, APR will have expected to take all three points against their less illustrious Burundian opponents. But yet another stern defensive performance from Atletico means they are now well deserved favorites to top Group A and qualify for the quarter finals.

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