Defending champions Langsning certainly impressed in their 8-0 victory over Nongkrem in the U-18 Shillong Premier League yesterday, but Bhogtoram Mawroh worries that they have a couple of deficiencies that could hurt them against stronger opposition…

The final score may give an impression that it was a completely one-sided match. But, in my opinion, it was more Nongkrem playing badly rather than just Langnsing playing very well.

The first three goals scored in the first half were all down to Nongkrem making silly mistakes, not being alert or losing the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch. Even without these mistakes they may have still lost the match but the margin might not have been so wide.

To begin with Nongkrem started very tentatively. For some reason the players looked nervous, the passing was highly atrocious and their first touches were very poor. Against a team like Langsning this was inviting trouble. And surely the goals didn’t take long to come. The first goal was the result of lazy defending. Nongkrem’s defence let Rikmenlang Nongrum just run across them and meet the ball as it was played from the corner, resulting in the first goal.

That should have been a wake-up call to the players to gather their wits and start concentrating. However, that didn’t happen and individual mistakes led to two more goals before the first half came to an end. After that it was only a matter of how many more goals Langsning would score given that Nongkrem would have to play against an open goal to have any chance of coming back in the game. Surely five more goals followed and it was, simply put, a rout.

However, if the players had been concentrating from the first whistle the story might have been a little more different. Nongkrem’s performance is the best example of what happens when the players are not switched on from the beginning and a warning to other teams in the tournament. Langsning played with a 4-4-2 with Rikmenlang Nongrum and Ryngkat Ryngksai leading the line. Rikmen played from the left while Ryngkat played from the right. The system, though, functioned like a 4-4-1-1 with one striker dropping deep and linking with the midfield while the other played on the shoulder of the last defender. Both strikers complemented each other very well, interchanging positions constantly throughout the first half.

In the second half, Rikmen played deeper, leaving Ryngkat as the lone striker upfront, but when the latter was substituted the former again starting playing further forward. I think these two strikers are going to create a lot of problems for other teams. But at the same time they could be weak point of this Langsning side (more on that a little later). Like their senior counterparts, this young Langsning team are technically and tactically well-drilled. Every player knows their role and they function like perfectly greased cogs in a well-oiled machine. Whenever the ball is with the midfielders the front players are always looking to make runs through the channels. This happens in two ways. Firstly, when the ball is with an attacking player (a striker dropping deep) the pass is mainly for the other striker who is playing at the shoulder of the last defender. Secondly, when the forward player plays a ball to the midfield, the latter will release the ball instantly to the wide attacking players who would have started making their runs in anticipation of the pass.

Coordination between Langsning’s midfielders and the attacker was top notch and this created innumerable problems for Nongkrem. But one has to also admit that Nongkrem’s midfield was responsible for the pressure in which the team found itself. Playing with a 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1, though Nongkrem had an extra midfielder on the pitch they could not use that numerical advantage to any great effect. Loose touches and wayward passing were just two of the problems. The first job of the midfielders is to mark the opposition attackers in which they failed miserably. Time and again, Rikmen and Ryngkat were able to drift into the midfield and pick up loose balls. This should not have happened. Someone should have taken the responsibility to track those runs.

Langsning played with a double pivot with Wadskhem Marbaniang and Iaryngkatlang Kharkrang playing as holding midfielders. Langsning were not pressing high and only when the opposition entered their half did the players swarm to dispossess. They relied more on pouncing on the loose touches by the opposition, which were plentiful. Any of Nongkrem’s midfielders could have taken the responsibility of marking Rikmen and Ryngkat. That didn’t happen and both were given a free license to roam wherever they wanted.

Attack, however, was not only coming from just the central areas but also from the wide areas. Coming from the right Mebanteikupar Mylliemngap was a huge threat. His curler to the far end of the post was a special shot. One, though, could make the argument that a taller goalkeeper might have done a better job. This would be harsh on Phredi Sari, who did make some crucial saves and prevented the scoreline from becoming more embarrassing.

So, any team that are going to play Langsning have to be wary of attacks coming from all over the pitch. In my opinion there are two ways in which the Langsning team can be stopped.

The system Langsning play leaves them a midfielder short. One of the strikers, especially Rikmen, does come onto the field to ensure that they midfield is not over-run. Against a team like Nongkrem (no disrespect) that may be sufficient, but a team with technically better midfielders (like Mawkhar and Nongrim Hills) the two strikers upfront will become a liability. Rikmen will not want to spend the majority of the game in the midfield as he would prefer to play a quick pass and make his runs at goal. Once the midfield battle is won, through balls will not be forthcoming, starving Langsning’s attackers of any service. This will force the team to break their shape and open up for attacks from the opposition’s forward players.

Langsning may try to counter it by replacing one of their strikers with a midfielder. But in the process they will have to break the partnership, thus weakening their attack. For teams that may not have technically good midfielders they should play either a 3-5-2 or a 4-5-1, ie, defend deep and play on the counter. With the kind of open game that Nongkrem played Langsning’s midfielders didn’t have to work very hard to create chances. With a lot space of offer between and behind the defence, all it took was a single ball over the defence to start an attack. But if the opposition were to block the middle of the pitch with bodies behind I am not sure Langsning’s midfield have the guile to carve the defence open.

Even for the best of midfielders it’s very difficult to break open a stubborn defence. Both Wadskhem and Iaryngkatlang are good passers of the ball but they don’t have the creativity to play a defence-splitting pass. They may prove me wrong, and I hope they do, but this is one of my biggest laments about Meghalaya football – the lack of a true creative player.

Let me make this point clearer with the following example: both Liverpool and Manchester City are top teams but the difference in their midfield is striking. Against Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho Manchester City have David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne. The midfielders playing in the Shillong Premier League are in the mould of the Hendersons and not the Silvas (by the way, I am a Liverpool fan).

In the current local context, from my observation, teams from Shillong don’t have someone like a Eugeneson Lyngdoh. So, when teams are defending deep and narrow one option is to cross the ball into the box and hope the attackers get to it. That is not going to be a very fruitful strategy because the opposition would be prepared for that. The only way is through the middle and they have to thread a pass which will be akin to passing a thread through a needle. This will be very difficult. And when the ball is lost because their defence would have moved up, Langsning will be open to counterattacks that could spell trouble for them.

These are just my observations from the comfort of my chair but I am sure the much more learned coaches in the SPL would have already thought of ways to counter Langsning. Also, having not watched Rangdajied United or Shillong Lajong I cannot really say if Langsning can overpower them as they did Nongkrem. But whatever said and done, this Langsning team is a very well-drilled team, technically as well as tactically. With the players they have, they are a very formidable side and a firm favourites to be champions again.

This, however, should not be the end of the line. Looking at them play I believe they will have a very good chance at qualifying from the Shillong-Guwahati Zone of the U-18 Elite League to the second round (Lajong will still be firm favourites). And then anything is possible. But before all that they have to win this championship and it will not be easy as this match.

(TSR photo)

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