Bhogtoram Mawroh was less than impressed with the way Ryntih and Rangdajied United went about their Shillong Premier League match yesterday, though he does have some good words for Donlad Diengdoh, Banpynkhrawnam Nongkhlaw and Brolington Warlarpih. He also caught the Indian Super League match later on TV and was impressed with Redeem Tlang.

The game between Ryntih and Rangdajied was supposed to be a cracker. Both sides have some good quality players in their ranks and needed a decisive performance for different reasons.

Ryntih had to maintain their momentum after their victory over Nongrim Hills while Rangdajied had to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the rest of the chasing pack. Instead what the spectators were treated to was a damp squib. To be honest, we should not be having games where both teams adopt an outdated mode of playing – just huffing the ball into the opposition’s box and expecting to capitalise on a mistake but at the same time not prepared for the same.

Both Rangdajied and Ryntih adopted a 4-3-3 formation, which should have resulted in a fluid passing game with the midfield being very prominent. Instead the game plan from both teams was to bypass the midfield and play high balls into the final third. This tactic didn’t work for either team.

Rangdajied had Aiborlang Khongjee and Mebankhraw Wahlang, while for Ryntih it was Brolington Warlarpih and Banpynkhrawnam Nongkhlaw who were at the heart of the respective defences. All of them are adept at dealing with high balls, especially when the ball is played in front of them. Neither Donlad Diengdoh from Rangdajied nor Badonkupar Marbaniang from Ryntih have the physical attributes to compete with taller defenders for high balls. In fact, I don’t remember any of the long balls troubling the defence of either team. It is not to say that the strikers didn’t try their best to put the defence under pressure. The problem was even if they did win the ball in the air, there was not much support available to them to create any meaningful chances.

If a team is to play a quick transition game with long balls being the primary route of attack, the formation is generally a 4-4-2. This is what Burnley does in the English Premier League with Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood playing upfront together. Playing with two strikers got them into the Europa League last season. The main objective of Burnley’s midfielders is not to play triangles in the midfield but to release the ball as quickly as possible to the front men. Ashley Barnes did that so well that he was even linked to Chelsea when Alvaro Morata looked out of sorts. Without a player like Wood, though, he might not have been so effective.

When NorthEast United played against Bengaluru yesterday evening they realised that they would have to rely on counters to open up their opponents. So they had Martin Chaves, a striker, partner Asamoah Gyan upfront. For Rangdajied and Ryntih this was not the case.

Instead of a 4-4-2 it was a 4-3-3, with Ronaldkydon Lyngdoh Nonglait and Dameki Khongstia playing behind their respective central strikers. Ronald is an attacking midfielder who has a penchant for scoring goals from the midfield but he is not a striker. The same can be said of Dameki as well. In a passing game both players have the capability to play as a number 10 and could have been very effective as well. For brief periods in the first half when Ryntih decided to keep the ball on the ground Dameki was very influential. It was his shooting, though, that let him down. But the moment the ball was played in the air he was taken out of the game.

In the second half, when Ryntih coach Wallam Kharpran changed the team’s shape to a 4-4-2, Dameki retreated to the holding midfield position with Manbha Iawphniaw, who replaced Dame Khongsit, moving into the central forward position to give support to Badonkupar. This was a clear indication that Dameki was not the right player for the tactic that was adopted by Ryntih for most of the game. With Ryntih having an inconsistent season one can forgive them as they are still figuring out their best system, but for Rangdajied that cannot be an excuse.

With Lajong not very far behind and Langsning hot on their trail as well, Rangdajied needed to adopt a tactic which gave them the highest probability of winning the game. Playing a percentage game is completely the opposite of that. The midfield trio of Ronald, Oresterwell Langshiang and Belton Lartang had enough quality in them to keep a hold of the ball in the midfield and find passes either behind or between defenders, which would have allowed their front three of Samson Nongrum, Donlad and Chanmetre Thma to put pressure on the defence.

Instead the midfield was completely neglected with the defence resorting to long balls at almost every instance. Granted that Oresterwell was not having a good game but there could have been other solutions to that problem. Caught on the ball on too many occasions and physically bullied, Oresterwell looked out of sorts in the midfield. Still, his quality was there for all to see when he chipped a ball over the defenders after Ryntih’s corner clearance fell to him. The recipient of the pass was Ronald who had the time to get into position but blasted the ball over the crossbar from close range. Except for that pass Oresterwell did not have a good game.

I, however, don’t think this was the reason for the long ball tactics of Rangdajied. If that were the case, Khlainpyrkhat Syiemlieh could have either replaced Oresterwell or had him swap position with Samson, which would have allowed Ronald to drop back into the midfield, his natural position. Being a striker Samson in a central position might have been a better fit for the tactic employed. Since that didn’t happen it is safe to assume that the decision to bypass the midfield was a predetermined one and not the team adapting to game situations.

The biggest disappointment for me was Samson’s performance. Having been used mostly for cameos ever since he joined Rangdajied from Meghalaya Police, this was a perfect opportunity for Samson to stake a claim in the starting XI. His performance, however, was not up to the mark. Samson’s game has been about pace and directness. It’s when he runs at the defence that he looks most threatening. The first opportunity he got was running at Dawanplielad Myrchiang (Ryntih’s right back), though he chose to try a wayward long shot. To be honest, Samson never looked really confident in this match. I can remember only one occasion when Samson got his chance to run behind the defence. When he did that he was able to put a cross into the box which wasn’t capitalised on by Rangdajied’s attackers. He again got a chance in the second half when some good work by Donlad resulted in a looping headed cross into Ryntih’s box which Samson missed with his header. Except for these few instances Samson was highly ineffectual. It was a good opportunity wasted by Samson, whose future contributions could be limited from the bench. With Samson not effective it was up to Chanmetre to provide support to Donlad. That, however, did not happen and Donlad was left isolated.

As always Donlad fought hard for the team. One of the highlights of the game was the powerful run he made into the box after winning the ball from Dibinroy Nongspung in the midfield. But, with Ban and Dibinroy putting pressure on him, he couldn’t get his shot on target. Ban, especially, had a good game at the centre of Ryntih’s defence and kept a tight leash on Donlad by man-marking him the entire match. There were few instances when the clearance headers were not up to the mark but in general, Ban was solid in defence supported by Brolington. Brolington, as usual, read the game very well and positioned himself very well to snuff out any possible attacks. With defenders like Ban and Brolington it was very difficult to imagine that a long ball strategy would yield any positive results. Rangdajied’s tactics were therefore highly surprising and disappointing.

The biggest problem with the tactics adopted by Rangdajied and Ryntih is that they lowered the quality of the game. With the ball in the air for long periods the game looked like a game of volleyball rather than football. To make matters worse, players from both teams kept losing the ball because of bad touches or inability to keep the ball under pressure. The passing was wayward, with the final ball especially leaving a lot to be desired. The lack of quality in the game was most typified by the plethora of long shots players from both sides took from outside the box. This could have been a legitimate tactic if most of them had hit the target.

I would like to believe that games like these are things of the past. Even in lower division matches teams are trying to play a game based on technique and skill rather than brute force. This kind of game is not to be expected in the SPL especially, from teams like Rangdajied and Ryntih. Such matches are not a good exhibition of the progress football has made in the state.

While Monday’s SPL game was disappointing, it was really good to see Redeem Tlang and Eugeneson Lyngdoh face off against each other in the Indian Super League. Eugene came late in the second half and after such a long layoff he will take time to come back to his best. Once he does that a spot in the Indian team is guaranteed. After being called for the national team camp Redeem needed to start well and he did just that by putting in a hardworking performance.

There are quite a few young India players who are his direct competitors for a place in the national team. Redeem is very much different from any of them. Lallianzuala Chhangte, Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan rely on pace and physicality as their main weapon, while Sahal Abdul Samad is more technical than the others. Redeem has pace but his main weapon is his fantastic close ball control. This allows him to play in multiple positions, as a wide attacker or just behind the main striker. What he hasn’t shown up to now is the final product.

The main highlight of the Bengaluru vs NorthEast United game was his solo run from the midfield. Though he managed to keep the ball under intense pressure from the defenders, he could not play key passes like Chaves did in the same situation. Of course this is not something that many Indian players are able to do. In the game against Bangladesh Samad was able to skip past two opposition players but instead of driving forward he chose to play a square pass. Chhangte, Udanta and Ashique are super athletes who put in a lot of effort but on most occasions the final ball is lacking. Getting behind the defenders will not amount to anything if the final ball is not up to the mark. If Redeem wants to play for the national team he has to look at what his other competitors are not able to do. His solo run cannot be a solitary one but has to be repeated again and again especially from the wide areas. He cannot always play the ball back when he is being closed down. He has to use his skills to get out of the situation. And when he is in the final third he should either be decisive or have the awareness of Chaves.

Goals and assists are what he needs from this season to get into the Indian team. It will be such a wonderful sight to see both Eugene and Redeem play international football together. Eugene will soon regain his place and it is up to Redeem to show that he deserves the same. I would like to wish all the best to both of the players, cheers!

(TSR photo)

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