Why Schlupp will be important to new Ghana ahead of World Cup

Ghana international Jeffrey Schlupp of Crystal Palace.Getty.

As the 2022 World Cup draws near, there have been many players linked to Ghana's Qatar travelling party but one man who has had little mention, but probably deserves more, is Crystal Palace's Jeffrey Schlupp.

On Sunday, the 29-year-old rescued a point for The Eagles as a substitute, registering the equaliser for a 1-1 draw away to Aston Villa in the Premier League. It was his fourth goal of the season, his joint-best haul in over a decade.

More impressively, unlike the 2010-11 season when he netted six times while playing as a striker for then League One side Brentford, his goals this season have come while he played in midfield, highlighting not just his transition and growth over the years but also his versatility.

For a man who started his career as a striker, moved to left-back, transitioned to a left-winger, and now plays centrally in midfield, indeed there may be only few players more versatile than the Germany-born, and it is for this very quality that he may be a useful contributor to Ghana's World Cup course.

Jeffrey Schlupp of Ghana and Crystal Palace.Getty.

With the Otto Addo-led new Ghana technical team showing a likeness for a back-three system, and with reports of Southampton's Mohammed Salisu imminently joining international duty, the Black Stars could switch to a back three system for what will not simply be aimed at accommodating Salisu together with current first-choice centre-backs Daniel Amartey and Alexander Djiku, but also for what may seem pragmatic judging by the totality of materials currently or imminently available, and by the high-quality group opposition in Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, Luis Suarez's Uruguay and Heung-Min Son's South Korea awaiting at the World Cup.

The likely Ghana availability of Brighton & Hove Albion defender Tariq Lamptey, who functions better as a right-wing-back than a traditional right-back, further accentuates the need for a switch to a back-three to suit players.

Mind you, Amartey has played multiple times as right centre-back at Leicester, and considering his poor ability when isolated into one-v-one situations, a role which puts him further away from goal when in such situations, or that which puts him away from being the last man may actually be prudent.

Presently, Djiku mainly plays for Strasbourg as a left-centre-back, and, thus, would not be new to a back-three either.

Not that in a back-four, left-back Baba Rahman or Gideon Mensah is particularly stellar for the Black Stars.

For a back-three, Addo will likely need fullbacks who are capable of playing further up the pitch wide or more centrally into midfield.

Considering that in this system, the Black Stars could likely play a two-man midfield in a 3-5-1-1 formation as they did in the latter part of their last match against Nigeria, and that those two men could likely be Arsenal's Thomas Partey and Ajax's Mohammed Kudus raises a bit of concern about the defensive stability of the midfield.

A way to solve this imbalance will be to have one wing-back play more towards midfield than wide when the team are in attack, thereby occupying central positions in that crucial moment, and, thus, swelling up Ghana's midfield numbers to avoid possible overloads created by the opposition.

That is where Schlupp comes in, probably fitting this role more than any of Ghana's available defensive options on the left. This is a man who has seen it all as a left-back (an area he will occupy as left wing-back when Ghana are defending), left winger (an area he may occupy on attack wide as a wing-back) or left midfielder (an area he may occupy centrally in the attacking phase) at competitive level.

Jeffrey Schlupp of Crystal Palace and Ghana.Getty.

As one of his nation's most competitive men at the highest level in Europe this season, with 30 league appearances, it will only make sense that he is involved in the current Ghana project.

But while advocating for a return to national duty, it is worth acknowledging the limitations of his game. But even then, these deficiencies make the idea of a left-wing-back role (with central midfield duties) even more sensible.

Out wide, the Germany-born does not have the ability to take on defenders one-v-one when on the attack, and his loss of pace in recent years has rendered him less desirable in wide attacking positions.

Defensively, even while at the top of his game at left-back, his recovery and one-v-one defending were always weaknesses in his game.

Thus, a left-wing-back role (with midfielder responsibilities) where he will have more men in support behind him when in one-v-one defending, where he will not be asked to be marauding up and down the pitch with pace he does not have and a one-v-one wide attacking ability he lacks. Where he instead occupies similar positions (when Ghana are on the attack) as he comfortably does in midfield for Palace - might be the best ask.

Even then, his usefulness is not only limited to only a back-three system as he has played and performed for his club in a back-four as a midfielder all through this season.

Schlupp was last on Ghana duty in a 2022 World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia last September, and by many considerations, it appears right that he makes a return to the Black Stars, probably starting from June's round of internationals against Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Japan and Chile/Tunisia.

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