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What did Osimhen & Onuachu prove in Champions League displays?

23:34 EAT 24/10/2019
Victor Osimhen
How did two of the Super Eagles’ striking options fare in UCL action on Wednesday?

On Wednesday night, some of Gernot Rohr’s leading options for Nigeria’s number nine shirt were in action in the Champions League as Victor Osimhen faced Valencia, whilst Paul Onuachu and Stephen Odey came up against Liverpool.

What did the attackers prove in their continental showings, and can the Super Eagles take encouragement from their performances?

Starting at the Luminus Arena for Racing Genk was Onuachu, with fellow African, Mbwana Samatta as his strike partner. 21-year old, Stephen Odey was amongst the substitutes. 

Having played just five combined minutes in the first two Group Stage matches and just three minutes from the bench against Standard Liege on Saturday, Onuachu’s selection was something of a surprise.

Although they were at home, Genk were not going to take risks with elaborate build-up play from the back against Liverpool’s famed pressing, so goalkeeper Gaetan Coucke would use his accurate long kicking to seek out Onuachu’s chest or head. Perhaps that fact explains his selection for this game.

With Cameroon defender Joel Matip not in the side, Dejan Lovren was often Onuachu’s direct opponent. In the first half, he largely had the measure of the Croatia defender, making some excellent passes with his chest to teammates, winning flick-ons with his head and showing good feet in tight spaces to move the ball and find a Genk teammate, before racing into the box in the hope of something to attack in the air.

His big opportunity came in the ninth minute as he ran onto a long ball from the back and through on goal, but as he hit his shot, James Milner slid in to put him off and Alisson saved well. That would have brought the game level and was certainly the best opening he got, even though there were debates about whether he was onside or not.

His second half wasn’t anywhere near as impressive. 

Although there were still some good layoffs from long passes, he also lost several duels when Virgil Van Dijk challenged him, whilst Liverpool got Fabinho to be a front screen on some of the high balls against Lovren to prevent Onuachu getting there first.

With 20 minute to go, he had visibly tired from trying to close down Klopp’s side’s playing out from the back and it was his poor touch from a Genk throw-in which gifted the ball to Georginio Wijnaldum and a few seconds later, Sadio Mane had run onto Mohamed Salah’s pass and chipped the goalkeeper.

In the 81st minute, Odey replaced his countryman and made his Champions League debut. It has been quite a rise for the man who was still playing in the NPFL as recently as September 2017.

His first involvement was a poor touch and subsequent yellow card for pulling back Naby Keita, whilst his second touch brought a consolation goal for Genk as he let Congolese winger Dieumerci Ndongala’s low pass run across his body before reversing the shot into the net. 

It was a good finish for his second goal since joining Genk – his first was against amateur side, KSK Ronse in the Belgian Cup.

There was still time to be fouled by Van Dijk as Odey led a break, and it was no doubt a day to remember for the 21-year-old.

As for Onuachu, it was a reasonable outing but one where his teammates struggled to get crosses into him. So far, all four of his goals in the Jupiler Pro League have been from crosses, but Liverpool starved Genk of the ball and any space to deliver regularly from the flanks. Nevertheless, it’s been a decent start to life in Belgium with those four strikes coming in just 193 minutes on the pitch in the league.

Just over 200km away, Osimhen was lining up to face Valencia in a game Lille really needed to win. Immediately clear was that coach, Christophe Galtier has highlighted Geoffrey Kondogbia as a key figure in Los Che’s build-up play, and Osimhen was the man tasked with a marking job on the Central African Republic midfielder during that phase of play.

This did not help the Nigeria’s attacking efforts, but he toiled hard and did the job assigned to him well; Kondogbia only made 19 passes in the first half before being withdrawn at the break.

In attack, Lille faced a Valencia side who were sitting back in an organised shape with their defensive line deep, and there were rarely spaces to penetrate through the middle. Therefore, lots of longer passes from the back were aimed at Osimhen.

He largely did well in the air and won seven aerial duels in the game, but also had tough moments against the aggressive marking of Gabriel and Mouctar Diakhaby. More joy came his way when he worked the channels, even though his 37th-minute shot, having received on the right flank and testing Jasper Cillessen, saw the flag raised.

He had two other attempts in the game – one header wide when under intense pressure from Gabriel and a shot he curled well wide of the post from the edge of the box. Two good layoffs with his back to goal brought attempts from distance for Luiz Araujo as he proved a good target for wall passes.  

With 20 minutes to go, Loic Remy was introduced, meaning Osimhen now had a partner and was required to work the flanks a lot more. He looked better for it. He stretched play well by running into the left channel and pulling Gabriel out of the middle, and when he intercepted Diakhaby’s loose pass, he was hauled back and the defender was given his marching orders for a second yellow card.

Overall, Osimhen had a frustrating evening, with little in the way or service or support until the final part of the game. 

With so many attacking midfielders around him, he is expected to remain central and be a focal point, but his game looks suited to a more mobile approach – running the channels, dribbling and receiving on the turn to shoot.

He didn’t have a direct hand in his side’s 95th-minute equaliser, but his presence had prompted Valencia to throw on Ezequiel Garay as an extra centre-back, inviting even more pressure.