Though they couldn’t bring home 3 points, Bhogtoram Mawroh is of the opinion that there was a lot that Smit did right in their game against U-18 Shillong Premier League defending champions Langsning on Saturday…

Champions always find a way to win even when they are not playing well. The score of 2-0 in Langsning’s favour doesn’t tell the true story of the game.

Smit, for me, were the better team and did not deserve to lose the game. A lack of concentration late in the game and a classic counterattacking move decided the game in Langsning’s favour. Till then Smit matched Langsning blow by blow and, in fact, if the attack had more effectiveness the outcome could have been very different.

The game revealed the lack of options for Langsning in some important areas of the pitch. It may not be enough to derail their march to the title, but against stronger opposition in national tournaments (like the U-18 Elite League) they could come unstuck.

They started with the same system employed against Nongkrem, 4-4-2 with Rikmenlang Nongrum and Ryngkat Ryngksai starting as the front two. However, this time they found it really difficult to break the opposition’s defence. Smit started with a 4-3-3 which later changed to a very narrow 4-4-2 with the wide midfielders tucking inside to overload the middle of the pitch.

Initially Rapborlang Warkhyllew played as the lone striker but later he was joined by Nangshanlang Wahlang. Nangshanlang played the role of the withdrawn forward, thus adding more numbers to the midfield. This made passing the ball through the middle very difficult and forced Langsning to play long diagonal balls. These deliveries were, however, not very accurate and in most cases easily dealt with by Shanborlang Warlarpih and Pyndapborlang Nongrum.

The long diagonal ball route, in fact, was taken very early by Langsning, suggesting that whatever the system Smit deployed the tactic was going to be the same for this particular match. With the two strikers being much taller than Smit’s central defenders it was not a bad ploy. However, Shanborlang and Pyndapborlang played a solid game and shut down any attacks that Langsning mustered.

Despite not matching Langsning’s front two in terms of height the central defenders of Smit won all the important headers. They also read the game very well, intercepting any through balls to the strikers. Playing on the front foot, the two defenders ensured that neither Rikmenlang nor Ryngkat got any free space to exploit. They were complemented by their fullbacks, who won their duels and cleared the lines whenever the occasion demanded.
In the midfield Smit had Bannangkiew Khriam, Nangsankupar Warlarpih, Sanbor Lyngkhoi and Pynkhlainbor Nongrum who played narrow and very compact. Pressing as a unit they dispossessed Langsning many times and were the first to react to the second ball as well. The only thing lacking in their game was potency in the final third. Rapborlang and Nangshanlang are both good players but they are not strikers. The combination play in the middle of the pitch was very good but as soon as the need to start an attack arose Smit seemed to lack ideas.

Pynkhlainborlang’s game was symptomatic of their attacking woes. Started on the wide area in the left, he began to play more in the middle as the game progressed. He won his duels but when the opportunity arose to initiate the attack he took too much time and made some bad decisions.

Tactically Smit played a better game than Langsning and the way they played the match gives me great hope that they will put in a better performance in the First Division as well. Last season I got the chance to watch their game against Laban and they looked really laborious in the midfield. Senior football is a different ball game. But if the same intensity and attitude is displayed by the senior players as well they should get more points than what they managed last season.

One player who could play an important role at that level in years to come is Nangshanlang: hardworking, good with the ball at his feet and having a fantastic attitude. He played as the withdrawn forward and tried to support Rapborlang as much as possible. His best position, I think, is at the top of the midfield diamond in a 4-4-2 system similar to the one used by Zidane at Real Madrid with Isco playing the aforementioned role in the Spanish team. Of course he is not yet at the same level of the Spanish player, but played in the right position and with the right system he can develop into a very good player.

The one player that Nangshanlang reminds me of from last season is Primrose Lamat of Malki. With Malki not taking part in this year’s SPL I wonder for which team Primrose might play for. I think the SSA has taken a wrong decision by banning Malki for a season. Instead of introspecting on its own failures it decided to use the team as a scapegoat. I hope that the new SSA management would be brave in owning their mistakes and not look to blame others for it. Coming back to Primrose, in my opinion, he was not used properly last season. Playing as part of the front two and expecting him to win headers against central defenders was the wrong decision from the coaching staff. Instead he should have been played in a position where he received more of the ball and could dictate the play. In the return leg against Shillong Lajong in the second half, the moment he was moved to the left side he was a nuisance to the opposition’s defence.

Players like Primrose and Nangshanlang are on the brink of becoming very good players but I am afraid, if not handled properly, they may not be able to achieve their potential. I wish both of them all the best for their future.

Coming to Langsning, the lack of creativity from the midfield was apparent in this match as well. With Smit creating a solid block in the midfield Langsning’s midfielders had only two options: play a long diagonal ball or play backwards. With Smit exerting tremendous pressure, misplaced passes were aplenty. Late at getting to the ball and demonstrating an inability to break Smit’s shape was the story of the match for Langsning’s midfield. In the second half Ryngkat was replaced by another striker, Sparkle Khongshai rather than a central midfielder. Similar to the last match Rikmenlang dropped deeper to provide support to the midfield. This means that there is lack of depth in the midfield department for Langsning. In event of injury to either of the two central midfielders they could be in trouble. From among the two midfielders, the captain, Wadskhem Marbaniang, seems to be the one who might be able to shoulder the creative responsibility. In the second half Wadskhem played further forward and had a shot at goal as well. But whenever he was in possession of the ball his first instinct was to go backwards, demonstrating the mentality of a holding midfielder. Being young I think he should try to develop the attacking side of his game a little more. This way he can add another dimension to his game.

Another weakness of Langsning’s gameplan was the inability of the wide players to make an impact. Neither the fullbacks nor the wide attackers were able to deliver any meaningful crosses into the box for the strikers to attack. A reason for the inability to use the width is that almost all the players playing in the wide areas like to cut inside and play through the middle. Hardly do they use the touchline to utilize the full width of the pitch. Tremiki Lamurong scored two goals but it was more of the defence losing concentration and taking advantage of a counterattack rather than an attack emanating from the wide areas. Every time Tremiki had the ball he also looked to cut in and play through the middle. This might work if the fullback plays high and wide. But if the fullback is not advancing it only results in midfield congestion, which is advantageous for the opposition since they have to defend only one area of the pitch.

Though Langsning lost the tactical battle they won the game by taking advantage of the opportunities that fell their way. This is what champion teams do: find a way to win. Langnsing are a strong team but in my opinion lack quality in certain areas. Whether these prove fatal in the future or will they simply waltz to the trophy, only time will tell. Till then it will be a very interesting U-18 SPL.

All the best to all the teams and I’d also like to wish all the best to the Meghalaya sub-junior girls’ football team, who will be heading to Odisha to represent the state in the nationals.

(TSR photo)

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