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OPINION: Al Ahly Spot-On Tactically in Champions League Loss
Al Ahly travelled to Morocco to play Moghreb Athletic de Tétouan (MAT) for the first leg of two in the round of 16 in the CAF Champions League. Tétoun’s talisman, Mouhcine Iajour, scored the only goal of the game in the 90th minute from a deflected set piece. Despite Al Ahly’s loss, the players put in a performance to be proud of. Spanish manager Juan Carlos Garrido had done his homework and had stopped Tétouan from playing their style of football on their home ground in front of their supporters.
Al Ahly lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, however the side played without a traditional striker and Mo’men Zakaria played as a false 9.
Al Ahly’s XI came as follows:
Al Ahly started the game with two right-backs, one of which played as a right-winger, Mohamed Hany. Al Ahly’s versatile youngster had the energy to execute Garrido’s game plan effectively. MAT’s dangerous side of the pitch is the left, thus doubling up on that side both offesnively and defensively was a good strategy by Garrido.
Straight from kick-off, Garrido’s intentions were clear: press high up the field, break up the passing game, win the ball in the opposition half and attack.
Within the first 12 seconds of the game four Al Ahly players were pressing the man in position high up the pitch. Tétouan did not get out of their own half for the first minute and 36 seconds of the game.
The best examples of high pressing from the Red Devils came in the first 15 minutes of the game. It is understandable that they were not able to keep up the same work rate for 90 minutes, however they have done well enough throughout the game to keep MAT from playing their passing game.
Momen Zakaria seemed to be man marking MAT’s center back Mortada Fal, who was the outlet used by MAT to build up play from the back.
Al Ahly had 5-6 players present inside the opposition half pressing the opposition looking to dispatch the ball off them.This what Pep’s Barcelona excelled at doing: defending in the opposition’s half. When the ball is retrieved, you are 30 meters from goal instead of 80 or 90 meters away.
Al Ahly reached the opposition goal on more than one occasion, including scoring a goal through Momen Zakaria that was called off for fouling the goalkeeper. Most of Al Ahly’s chances came through forcing the opposition to make mistakes within their own half and playing direct football. Mo’men Zakaria and Mahmoud Trezeguet’s decision making let Al Ahly down more than once, both opted to keep the ball for too long instead of putting their teammates through on goal.
This season Al Ahly have played decent football under their Spanish gaffer, but they have lacked the results that Al Ahly fans have come to expect. The performance on Sunday evening was encouraging and despite losing to a deflected free-kick in the dying moments of the game, Al Ahly have a more than decent chance to progress to the quarter-finals of this year’s African Champions League edition. Many seem to have lost patience with Garrido, but the team’s tactical performance against top opposition has generally been good.
Al Ahly are in a transition period from arguably their most successful-ever era and are trying to build a side that can create the same kind of success. With tactical performances similar to the ones they have been putting in under Garrido, success should not be too far away.