Preview: Will Al Ahly signings reignite their faltering season?
Al Ahly’s poor CAF Champions League group stage campaign began with an away loss to Zesco United. Having gone full circle, Al Ahly now hosts Zesco in a momentous game.
Last June Zesco United recorded a shock victory over Al Ahly. Fast-forward to almost two months later and it appears the fortunes of the two clubs are heading in opposite directions.
In the last matchday, Al Ahly resurrected their CAF Champions League hopes with an away win against Wydad Casablanca. Actually, they resurrected their hopes in the two matches against Wydad Casablanca to go against everyone’s verdict. On the other hand, Zesco United managed to get a commendable draw in Abidjan against ASEC Mimosas. However, the draw puts them only three points ahead of Al Ahly, who are still bottom of Group A, albeit on goal difference.
The atmosphere appears to be much more positive at Martin Jol’s camp despite the cup final loss to Zamalek. Aside from coming out on top against Wydad Casablanca, they have refreshed their roster with high quality signings. Marwan Mohsen has joined the Red Devils from Ismaily. Also, Ali Maaloul, who is one of the best left wing-backs in Africa, has joined their ranks from CS Sfaxien. The Tunisian took little time to settle in at Al Ahly as he assisted their last gasp Egypt Cup semi-final winning goal.
It is therefore expected that things should be different when these two teams meet again. Mohsen should add verve in attack. Afterall, he made KingFut’s Egyptian Premier League team of the season. Al Ahly have been woeful in attack; managing to score only four goals in the group stage and half of those being scored by their centre-backs.
Ali Maaloul, on the other hand, will add plenty to a back line that only a few African national teams can compete with. He will provide an attacking outlet from deep. He is also brilliant with set pieces, a fact that may come in handy if Zesco spend their time in Egypt parking the bus for a draw.
It’s hard to imagine because they have proven to be a proper attacking team. They have outscored every team in the group stage. In truth though, they have averaged three goals at home but only scored once in two away matches. This is because Zesco’s diamond 4-4-2 transforms into a proper 4-3-1-2 on the road.
While the Zambians do change formation, their line-up remains consistent. The key men include Kenyan midfielder Anthony Akumu. On the road, he shields the centre-backs, but only deceptively for he is actually a deep creator and comes alive when his side pushes forward. Upfront they have a twin strike force of Jesse Were and Jackson Mwanza and behind them is John Ching’andu who scored the last time the two sides met.
Al Ahly has wasted little time slotting their new signings into the starting line-up. Another new face expected to start is Abdallah El-Said; he had been sidelined by injury for over a month. Despite a strong depth developing for the Cairo club once again, there will be concern whether the team has variety in them to win if the opponent gets too stubborn.
Prediction: Al Ahly 2-0 Zesco United
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