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Nigeria stand to benefit from Leganes' Awaziem-Omeruo partnership

4:12 PM GMT+4 25/08/2019
Chidozie Awaziem_Leganes
The Super Eagles centre-backs have linked up in Spain, and could potentially rival the long-standing pairing of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong

Chidozie Awaziem’s loan move to Leganes may have seen him depart Portuguese giants FC Porto for a lesser side in Spain, but it should be for the best as he probably wasn’t going to get the necessary game time for Sergio Conceicao’s side had he remained with the Dragons.

Be that as it may, a place in Mauricio Pellegrino’s team isn't guaranteed, given the level of competition he has to face at the Cucumber Growers. The former Nantes defender is one of the six central defenders available to Pellegrino, and he'll have to battle for his place in the side.

The same probably goes for Kenneth Omeruo, who was one of the top performers for the club last term. If gameweek one’s 1-0 defeat by Osasuna is anything to go by, the former Chelsea man isn’t going to have it all his way the second time around at the club, and must not also assume that his starting berth is set in stone.

Even though it was just one game, it was still interesting to see Pellegrino elect to go with the trio of Dimitrios Siovas, Rodrigo Tarin and Unai Bustinza against Los Rojillos last time out, with Omeruo having to make do with a place on the bench.

Spanish centre-back Tarin, who started 15 games last term, replaced Omeruo in the side for Lega’s first match of the new campaign and it remains to be seen if it was just a one off or whether the ex-Blues defender might have to play a backseat role to the Spaniard. Pellegrino’s selection for Sunday’s visit to Atletico Madrid will give onlookers a glimpse into what his preferred trio at the back will be over the course of the campaign.

While it’s unlikely Awaziem features against Diego Simeone’s charges on Sunday, owing to his new status with ‎Los Pepineros, his Nigerian colleague would be disappointed if excluded.

Over time, though, the expectation is that he’ll get a sustained run in the side. It won’t be that straightforward for Awaziem, though, given he’s largely untested at this level and might need a bit of bedding in over the course of the campaign.

That reality won’t be welcomed by observers hoping to see the Super Eagles pair take to the field at several points during the season. Frankly, it’d be a long shot to expect the duo to feature side-by-side in the heart of the defence week in, week out due to the sheer volume of competition for places.

Awaziem, whose versatility makes him an option at right-back, may be unable to feature in that position in Spain because Pellegrino’s tactic makes use of wing-backs, who have a more attacking role than defensive full-backs. Thus, the loanee has got to compete for a place in one of the three central defensive roles.

It may prompt some friendly competition from the compatriots, and the event of a both playing together regularly can only benefit the Nigeria national team. While Omeruo seems to have broken the popular ‘Oyibo Wall’ partnership of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong, Awaziem has had to accept being played on the right.

Even though he gives acceptable performances in this role, his abilities shine through in the centre of the park, and he sometimes seems limited in what he can produce when asked to attack and create in the final third. It was evident at the Africa Cup of Nations, where he created just one chance (against Cameroon) regardless of the fact he played the entire Afcon in a position that required him to make forward forays.

It’s unlikely he plays at wing-back for Pellegrino, and playing in a three with Omeruo will be music to the ears of Gernot Rohr, who could see that as an alternative if either or both members of the Oyibo Wall are unavailable.

There’s a difference between a back four and back three, but building that synergy at club level in any system will certainly have its advantages, and it’s something Rohr will aim to make the most of for the West African nation.

It may not happen as quickly or as predicted, but the next 12 months could turn out be a turning point for Awaziem, who has had to move from one loan to another in recent years.

Like Omeruo before him, Awaziem has failed to find a home, and this represents an opportunity for him to make a mark and be signed permanently, as the former Chelsea player was this summer. The Super Eagles selectors will also watch on with intrigue.