Kanto Punditry

By: Jeffrey Gumawid -

Mon. Sep. 04, 2017

If I were Mang Dooley...

September 5 marks the return of the Azkals to the lion's den that is Pana-ad Stadium in Bacolod. The home of Ceres Negros has been at the forefront of the Azkals'best moments, with its raucous crowd. It is also witnessed one of the best goals an Azkal has ever scored, Chieffy Caligdong's wonderstrike almost a decade ago.

An impressive win here against Yemen would probably increase the odds of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup even greater. It would also mark the rebound of Philippine football to the mainstream with an impressive, eye-pleasing victory. With these in mind, how could Thomas Dooley maximize the Azkal effort?

First, a few of the key guys are missing in this squad. Explosive fullback Daisuke Sato is suspended via Yellow Card accumulation, while talismanic striker Javi Patiño is out with a long term injury, as well as defensive rock Amani Aguinaldo. Also worth mentioning is that Stephan Schrock seems to have retired from the Azkals ro focus on Ceres Negros in the PFL.

Now, let us build the optimal lineup and tactics to maximize the strengths and hide the weakness of this Azkal Squad.

Formation: First of all, there is a lack of strong central defenders in the squad. In order to compensate with this, A 4-3-3 with two defensive mids may be utilized to lessen the burden of the 2 centerbacks. This 4 man coverage would allow the fullbacks to bomb forward and support the attack, while it mitigates any counter attacking opportunities from the Yemenis.

GK: This is a no-brainer. Neil Etheridge is flying high in the EFL Championship with Cardiff. He is also the sort of commanding goalkeeper needed to shape the makeshift defense in front of him. Therefore, he gets the nod over Pat Deyto and Nick O'Donnell

Defence: This is the tricky part. With the lack of imposing centerbacks, I have opted to choose Carli de Murga and Josh Grommen since they are the only true centerbacks in the squad. de Murga has done well when either one of Kota Kawase or Super is missing in Ceres-Negros, while Grommen is fresh off marshalling the back for the Sea Games Azkals.

As for full backs, this tactical setup means they need to be fast and able to support the midfield and attack. With Simone Rota coming off a long injury and Stephen Palla a defensive type of fullback, I have opted for the duo of Junior Muñoz and newboy Tyler Matas since they are both doing this attacking fullback role in Ceres and Meralco Manila, respectively.

Midfield: To compensate the nerves in central defence and the attacking role of the fullbacks, I have opted to employ 2 defensive midfielders in Kevin Ingreso and Dennis Villanueva. These two would act as the first line of defence in any attacking move from the Yemenis, sweeping up the ball in midfield then recycling it either the fullbacks, or to the third central midfielder. Luke Woodland is still suspect at defending, so he takes to the bench.

My third midfielder would be Manny Ott. He is at his best as a deep lying quarterback both for club and country, and he would be the key man in this setup. He gets the nod since he has a longer range of passing than James Younghusband, and he is marginally better at defending than Paul Mulders.

Attack: The Azkals have overflowing options in attack, Patiño aside. However, my central striker would be Phil Younghusband as opposed to Misagh Bahadoran due to his threat from set-pieces. Misagh is also out of form for Global Cebu in recent times.

As for the wide attack, The combination of Iain Ramsay and Hikaru Minegishi is enticing. Both have speed, good crossing, and have a shooting touch out wide that is deadly when paired with Phil's playmaking. They get the nod over Harry Foll who is a newcomer, Mike Ott who is better suited as an inside forward, and Dylan de Bruycker who is better suited in central playmaking role. Patrick Reichelt could be utilized later on, when the defence is tired defending the much opportune wing.

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