KPL Top8 Tactics : KCB defend deep but well enough to advance past Ulinzi

It is still too early, still too quick and still a bit of a rush to make any final conclusions on KCB. The Bankers may have had a torrid start to the Kenya Premier League season but in a week where they finally sacked their manager, a win in the Top 8 may just have addressed their poor form.

Still, it should not be forgotten that this is the game where the dynamics particularly favoured the sort of upset to their current form book that was displayed against Ulinzi Stars. The positive psychological effect that a change of manager instantly injects to a team should not be understated. Whether the change from Abdalla Juma to Daniel Oluoch (albeit temporarily) was a good or bad one remains to be seen. But in light of any change, a group of individuals can suddenly feel refreshed and re-invigorated.

Adding onto that was the distraction of the cup competition. Sometimes, a change in environment can be lifting. In this case, the pressure of fighting for points was replaced by the one-off match that is a cup game. With seemingly a shorter path to glory in their sights, a club’s mood can quickly heighten. That may be what happened to KCB.

In spite of all this, KCB still managed to produce a wonderful performance. It was not sterling and stellar rather it was dogged and rigid. It was however highly effective and meant that they were marginally the better side and secured their place in the Top 8 semis in their maiden attempt.

Defensive organisation

If conceding goals had been their Achilles heel of late, then Oluoch‘s back to basics tactics ensured a decent showing. Compact and steady for most of the game, KCB were able to limit Ulinzi Stars to very few chances.

Their shape on paper looked like 4-4-2 but was more or less 4-4-1-1. By defending with two banks of four in front of their goal, KCB were able to repel Ulinzi. It was a clear ploy from the start, with only Paul Mungai Kiongera and Crispinus Onyango allowed the freedom of remaining forward whenever the team was in its defensive phase.

It did surrender possession to the Soldiers but it had the opposite effect of maintaining Ulinzi’s possession in non-dangerous areas. Lacking penetrativeness by being restricted from having the sort of spaces to thread in punching passes, Ulinzi resorted to launching long balls into the area very early on.  One of those passes almost let in Stephen Waruru on goal but the forward was unable to decide whether to head for goal and his attempted cushioned header did not reach any of his teammates.

Ironically, KCB would take the lead less than a minute later via the same routine. A long hopeful ball was mistimed by the Ulinzi backline and Crispinus Onyango was on hand to pounce for his second goal in his last three KCB appearances.

The Bankers defend deep

Having something to hold on to probably caused KCB to retreat deeper. That and the fact that as Ulinzi continually pumped in long balls from the center, they became weary of covering the space behind them.

This in turn conceded more of the midfield to Ulinzi. However, unable to penetrate down the middle, Ulinzi resorted to working the ball into wide areas and pumped in the crosses. This pattern continued even after the half time break.  KCB sat deep and compact — Ulinzi unsuccessfully pumped in balls into the area.

Ulinzi coach Robert Matano tried to influence things with his introduction of Allan Abulala to provide more of a presence. But even he was met by the sheer force of numbers that KCB had protecting their goal. It seemed risky defending by KCB, and it meant that it was edgy but even after KCB goalkeeper Zachary Onyango had to go off due to injury, Ulinzi seemingly did not do enough from an attacking sense to threaten his replacement, KCB’s third choice goalkeeper, Kaleb Wafula, a man who’s yet to taste a minute of football this season.

Onyango and Kiongera combination

While KCB defended deep, their main attacking outlet was Crispinus Onyango. The youngster was impressive all through. His movement continually dragged the Ulinzi backline and even though he was not the tallest or the strongest, he contested for high balls. He was also positive enough when he had the ball to run directly at the Ulinzi defenders.

With Kiongera, he seemed to form the perfect partnership. Onyango’s pace and energy was complimented by Kiongera’s calm and power. Granted, Kiongera has not been at his blistering best and at times has cut a frustrated figure (picked a silly yellow card for kicking the ball away during the first half). He did however put in a good performance, using his tactical awareness to form triangles with his midfielders whenever his team regained possession. He also charged into the area to support Onyango in attack and it was on one of those runs that he doubled the lead — arriving to knock in the ball after Onyango had weaved his way past the Ulinzi defence.

In the end:

As risky as it was, defending deep eventually granted KCB the rewards. Granted, KCB did eventually concede from a cross into the area but by then, it was too little too late. The organisation and structure held fort, and the sheer amount of numbers (eight at any given time) protecting the goal meant that it was difficult to breach them. On another day, those numbers may have unluckily deflected the ball into their own goal or their susceptibility to conceding possession may have hurt them. But on this day, it did not.

Part of it has to do with how well Onyango and Kiongera took their chances upfront. It probably has the makings of a very fruitful partnership but that remains to be seen against other tough defences. Onyango still lacks experience while Kiongera often lets his temperament get in the way of his talent. If however their strengths can be harnessed, then if KCB can maintain that defensive display, then these two should be able to produce the sort of attacking displays to ensure their season turns a corner.

Mike Njoroge is a regular contributor to Superfoota and writes his own blog,  FutbolTriangle. He has also been published by Here Is the City, Beyond the Ninety Minutes and You can follow him on Twitter @MikeNjoro

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