By Olasoji Tolulope
At this moment it’s so obvious, Mikel is experiencing some kind of recurring deja vu, but in this case it seems different.
Typically, he has always had the last laugh under past coaches but Mourinho sees his competitor, Nemanja Matic, as an upgrade in all departments. This has reduced Mikel to the role of substitute, entering games late on to close down the opposition. It is uncertain if Mikel is going to start many, if any, of Chelsea’s remaining matches with Matic churning out impressive and dominating performances in the heart of midfield.
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On the other hand, Chelsea's loanee Victor Moses's ambition at Anfield looks gloomy as Raheem Sterling put up an impressive full debut for England against Denmark in a recent international friendly. It’s so glaring that Sterling would be given more chances at Liverpool as he's thought to be in the running for Brazil, potentially even bound for England’s starting XI.
With the duo not getting much game time at their clubs, there is a genuine fear that this could dent Nigeria’s hopes at the World Cup. Both men played crucial roles as Stephen Keshi guided Nigeria to the top of the mountain, but could their current struggles undermine the Super Eagles on the grandest stage of all?
An Alternate Plan
With world class teams such as Germany and Spain having the luxury of assigning several fantastic players to each position. Nigeria do not have the luxury of doing without either Mikel or Moses.
What Spain and Germany are also able to do, however, is tweak their tactics and modify their approach to compensate for injuries or for star men when they are not on form.
For instance, Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain employed the false nine during their Euro 2012 success when their reliable strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres were unfit and underperforming. Then Germany adopted the same tactics with Mario Gotze when Miroslav Klose was declared injured during their own World Cup qualifying campaign.
By contrast, Portugal, who have struggled to match the achievements of Spain and Germany, are often a completely different (and much weakened) prospect when missing their star forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
With Stephen Keshi said to be proving his adaptability by deviating from his trusty 4-3-3 to an unfamiliar 4-4-1-1, as identified by Goal’s own Solace Chukwu, it would also prove beneficiary for him to have an alternate game plan, that doesn’t feature his two vital players. Nigeria are not blessed with the depths of talents to directly replace Mikel or Moses, and so it may be wiser for Keshi to modify his approach to account for their sub-standard showings.
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Mikel’s role could be filled by Real Betis midfielder Nosa Igiebor or Dynamo Kyiv’s Lukman Haruna in the coach’s new 4-4-1-1 formation.
With the coach’s constant overlooking of the latter, his inclusion seems unfeasible. Igiebor's failure to live up to his early billings have left his coaches sceptical about his ability, but recent displays showed he still has potential to be a creative influence in the heart of midfield. Although he is currently out of the game following surgery, he is likely to drop back into the Betis starting XI as soon as he recovers fitness.
Nosa is a modern midfielder who has defensive as well as creative ability and would bring another dimension in place of the lethargic Mikel.
The use of two very good, strong and all-round midfielders would be required in the new 4-4-1-1 formation. Nosa should add creative and defensive touches alongside the dynamic Ogenyi Onazi who would be positioned slightly behind him to reduce the defensive work rate and act as cover for the attacking full-backs.
In Moses's place, there are alternatives, but the enormity of his role in the team makes it a more tedious decision for the coach. The direct Imoh Ezekiel, conservative and creative Ejike Uzoenyi and the ever-present Obinna Nsofor are all potential options for Keshi. Peter Odewingie's virtuoso displays for club side Stoke City could prompt the coach to recall Nigeria's prodigal son, Keshi is likely to explore all of these options.
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Another similar tactic Keshi could examine is Bayern Munich’s 4-1-4-1 formation. This could be employed by the coach in matches where the team have to be compact or defend a lead. An attacker would be sacrificed for a defensive-minded midfielder such as Ramon Azeez.
This formation would give Nigeria defensive solidarity, but with the additions of Ahmed Musa and Imoh Ezekiel on the flanks, and Emmanuel Emenike leading the line, the Super Eagles will not sacrifice their attacking threat.
Such an approach would help Keshi to overcome any potential weaknesses that may be encountered following the underwhelming campaigns of both Mikel and Moses. If the Big Boss does not account for the sub-standard seasons of these two key figures, then Nigeria risk being over-reliant on uncertainty in Brazil.
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