Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play Serbia in their final preparatory game for the World Cup this Saturday. This comes four days after the Lions lost 1-3 to Portugal which exposed defensive frailties that coach Paul Le Guen and team need to work on before their first game against Japan in South Africa.
“This is one of the three problems of the team.It concedes a lot of goals. It should concede less and score more,” Cameroon’s deputy head-coach, Yves Colleu, told Cameroon Tribune.
The team will have to create a balance between playing a high defensive line – to attack their opponents in numbers – and a coordinated defence.
BALANCE AND COORDINATION
The current 4-3-3 formation demands that the full-backs charge up-field to support the attackers and provide vital crosses. Cameroon’s only goal versus Portugal (as was the case against Slovakia) came from a cross by Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the left full-back. His opposite number, Georges Mandjeck, had made an equally dashing run that helped to contain Portuguese interest before the ball was switched from right to left.
It is, however, this very attacking option that makes it easy for Cameroon’s opponents to smash them with deadly counter-attacks. The opposing team (as the Portuguese did so brilliantly), simply have to lump the ball behind the defence line, in the zone vacated by the full-backs ( Assou-Ekotto and Mandjeck). It was seen in both second half goals conceded to Portugal with a heavy involvement by the Manchester United winger, Nani.
What teams like FC Barcelona do to maintain defensive balance in such a 4-3-3 formation is to request their centre-backs to stretch out wide while the holding midfielder (Yaya Toure or Busquets) to drop deep as a 3rd centre-back. It covers the width of the field and protects the team until the full-backs can piston back into their positions.
At the moment, Cameroon’s holding midfielder (Alex Song) tends to follow the action in support of the attackers and is usually absent from his position when the move collapses and the opposing team is in a counter offensive situation.
“Alex (Alexandre Song) is less sharp, but it will be alright,” Colleu said in a tacit admission that the midfielder has to up his game and tactical awareness.
But this is more than an exclusively individual mistake.
For instance, Portugal’s third goal happened when Alex Song had been replaced and Enoh Eyong was in the holding midfielder’s position. The two central defenders (Nicolas Nkoulou and Stephane Mbia) ended up facing 4 Portuguese attackers and where split between running back to their goalpost or rushing towards Nani.
This was certainly made worse by the fact that Cameroon was playing 10 against 11 men but they should have had some support from their N°6. Tactical coordination between the defence and the midfield must be tackled with insistence by the coaches. The game against Serbia should tell if there is an improvement on this matter. Luckily the staff has another 10 days to work on it in training.
The coaches are also aware that there is the small matter of choosing a definite right-back for the team.
“The second problem is the right full-back position; of the three players tested at this position, Mandjeck is the one that gave most satisfaction, even if it is not his preferred position,” the deputy coach, Yves Colleu, told Cameroon Tribune as the team left Portugal for Serbia.
Georges Mandjeck displayed goodwill against Portugal but he still needs to improve his positioning. He also has to think like a right-back and not a midfielder. The second Portuguese goal could have been avoided had Mandjeck been a regular right-back. He could not turn well, allowing the ball to bounce-off , leaving Merieles to beat goalkeeper Idriss Kameni.
Will Le Guen return to his initial view of playing Mbia at right-back or will he stick to Mandjeck? Will he opt to play Geremi instead? The former Newcastle United captain is only regular right-back in the 23-man squad. But, he is limited by lack of pace which does not allow him to freely shuttle from back-to-front-and-back again as Le Guen would want.
- The training ground will also be the place where Le Guen would have to fine tune his offensive plans. He started with Maxim Choupo-Moting, Achille Emana and Samuel Eto’o as his front three against Portugal. Eto’o played on the right (and at times on the left) confirming (to Patrick Mboma’s chagrin) that Le Guen does not plan to use Eto’o as THE centre-forward.
- Unfortunately, Eto’o picked-up a red card after 30 minutes and should not appear against Serbia. This means the preferred attacking line-up would not have been tested in a full game before the match against Japan.