blcl starWhy Kwesi Appiah should consider playing three at the back

After watching Ghana?s friendly against Montenegro on Wednesday night, a few things went through my mind. I felt that defensively, the Black Stars looked exposed, especially via the flanks when the Montenegrins went on the counter attack. Also the back four looked too flat and because of a lack of protection from a recognized holding midfielder, Ghana looked vulnerable every time the Black Stars lost the ball. For starters, Michael Essien is not the player we once knew him to be; an excellent box-to-box midfielder. He has lost a bit of pace and as a result, he tends to lose balls when up against more energetic opponents in midfield. Also, no matter what anyone tells me, Rabiu Mohammed?s absence was largely felt and at the moment, he seems to be the only one who can provide adequate screening for the back four as well as mobility going forward. He is currently recovering from injury and hopefully he should get fit soon, but clearly there seems to be some level of imbalance about the team that needs to be addressed and maybe head coach Kwesi Appiah needs to start thinking of a tactical overhaul in order to bring the best out of his players.

For starters, the Black Stars last kept a clean sheet in the 2-0 win over Lesotho during the World Cup qualifiers. Clearly there is no leader at the back and that is why many have called for the return of former captain John Mensah to the Black Stars. I would have joined the bandwagon if I was convinced that the defender is fit. Sadly, my information is that he is not and that is why he is on a pay-as-you-play deal, lasting an initial eight weeks with FC Nitra. Putting it bluntly, he is not fit and if he does get on the plane to Brazil, that would be doing him more harm than good because of his spinal problems.

So for me, he is not an option, but there is a solution to Ghana?s defensive woes that has been largely overlooked. Let me draw the parallels and it would become clear. Lothar Matthaus was a marauding midfielder and one of the best in the world when West Germany won the World Cup in 1990. He also enjoyed trophy laden years with Inter Milan, but towards the end of his career, he played as a very effective sweeper behind two stoppers. His game intelligence ensured that he could read the game so efficiently that he played a reported 150 times for Germany in total, including appearances in five World Cups (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998).

What I am suggesting is that Kwesi Appiah should consider deploying Michael Essien as a sweeper for Ghana?s defence. Former Ghana captain Joe Addo made a serious point after the 2013 African Nations Cup when he noted that there are more centre halves (stoppers) than central defenders or sweepers. Indeed, during the game against Montenegro, it was abundantly clear that John Boye and Jerry Akaminko were just too flat and so a bit of pace could easily unsettle the defence. Both players are modern day centre halves and so perhaps Appiah would be better off utilizing a back three comprising Essien as the sweeper, with any two of Boye, Akaminko and Jonathan Mensah as the stoppers in front of him.

Fortunately, Essien has played in central defence before, even as part of a back four and should he play as a sweeper, he can utilize his football brain and his sense of anticipation to mop up loose balls after the stoppers have done the hard work. Again, his vast experience means that he can provide organization at the back and that should see Ghana possessing a solid backline.

Should such a move materialize, that would see everything else fall into place. Harrison Afful has been utilized to great effect on the right side of midfield several times for Esperance and perhaps this is why he would flourish as the right wing back for the Black Stars. The ex-Asante Kotoko wing back is one of the most technically endowed players in the team and with the security of a back three, he would be able to bomb forward down the right with the presence of mind to track back as well.

On the left Ghana would then have a ready-made material in Kwadwo Asamoah. The midfielder has evolved into one of Europe?s finest wing backs and with the security of the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Angelo Ogbonna at the back, he has been freed to bomb down the left to devastating effect and for me, he has to be deployed in a similar role for the Black Stars.

Such a formation would give Ghana something it has lacked over the last few years; width down the flanks. With such a formation, Sulley Muntari can then be deployed in his preferred deep lying playmaker role, with Rabiu Mohammed beside him when fit. That would leave an attack-minded player like Emmanuel Agyemang Badu playing behind a front duo of Asamoah Gyan and Abdul Majeed Waris. Alternatively, in case Mohammed isn?t available due to injury or suspension, Agyemang Badu could play alongside Muntari, with Andre Ayew occupying the attacking central midfield role. I have always felt that Andre Ayew looks restricted attacking from the flanks when he plays for the Black Stars. Even though he does a good job there, I feel he will be better suited to a free attacking midfield role down the middle.

So in short, I am suggesting that Ghana uses the Juventus model, which is a fluid 3-5-2 formation which can metamorphose into a 5-3-2 formation when the Black Stars do not have possession of the ball. Also it can change into a 3-5-1-1 or 3-6-1 formation when closing out games. Obviously a great amount of stamina and fitness is required but with the players at Appiah?s disposal, I believe that something can be done.

I do not pretend to be a coach and I am not one either, but in my view, especially after watching our players based in Europe, this is a formation that should not only bring out the best in our players, but would also make Ghana hard to beat when coming up against the USA, Germany and Portugal.
Story by Christopher Opoku

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