Cameroon: need to get the midfield balance right

June 9, 2014

With Cameroon, off-field issues are of greater concern than tactical factors.

They always have some kind of problem in terms of organisation, and it was no great great surprise when a row about bonuses threatened to take over again. There have also been problems between Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song, Cameroon’s star players, in the past.

Following an extremely unconvincing qualification campaign, where Cameroon suffered from infighting, had three different coaches and only escaped elimination because Togo were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player, it was difficult to see any hope for them at this World Cup. A recent 2-2 draw with Germany suggests all is not lost, however.

Coach Volker Finke was once renowned as an attack-minded coach, but with Cameroon has found himself lacking in the creative midfield department, and therefore has tried to make his side organised, compact and disciplined, and depended upon quick attacking down the flanks. The major question is how he structures his midfield trio, to get the balance between defensive solidity and attacking potential.

The key player in this zone is Alexander Song, who has experienced a couple of poor seasons at Barcelona but is nevertheless capable of fine midfield performances. The problem, however, is that these days no-one’s entirely sure what of Song’s best position or role. At Arsenal he was initially a pure holding midfielder, then became part of a double pivot with license to move forward, and then ended up providing an amazing number of clever, lofted through-balls for Arsenal’s attackers. At Barcelona he was recruited because of his technical quality, but plays a limited role.

Possible Cameroon XI

It’s arguable that Song has been a victim of the same problem John Obi Mikel and Yaya Toure suffered from. At club level they’re seen as defensive-minded tacklers (Toure in his Barcelona guise), but at international level they’re charged with bringing more creativity to the table. In the warm-up against Germany, Song started as the deepest of the three midfielders, but then increasingly moved forward, both to press and to help attack, with Eyong Enoh covering for him. Those two are guaranteed to start, but there’s still a question about their position, and it’s not impossible Finke could even tilt the midfield triangle and play them as a double pivot, although there’s no obvious contender to play at the top of the triangle.

The final midfield slot is up for grabs. Stephane Mbia is an option, but is another hard worker and a physical presence who doesn’t offer much ability on the ball. Jean Makoun seems the best choice on paper but has barely been used, with the energetic Landry N’Guemo more likely to get playing time. It’s even arguably Song should start at the top of the midfield trio, although at least he’s given freedom to move forward from his deep position.

Defence

Cameroon’s area of strength is at centre-back, where the combination of Aurelian Chedjou and Nicolas N’Koulou seemed settled until they were torn apart in a 5-1 thrashing against Portugal in Match, so Schalke’s Joel Matip has been used in place of Chedjou, who has also been suffering from injury. Again, however, Matip would be another decent midfield option – he’s equally happy playing there – so this arguably weakens the side as a whole.

The full-backs attack well. Allan Nyom brings the ball forward purposefully, while left-sided Henri Bedemo is better at making off-the-ball runs before crossing.

Forwards

Samuel Eto’o has often played a deep role for his national side, but in this 4-3-3 he plays upfront as the central striker, and no longer feels the need to drop back and help create chances, partly because he doesn’t have the mobility these days. Still quick over short distances and a lethal finisher, he remains a top-class striker.

On the flanks, Cameroon are likely to field two pacey wingers who cut inside and shoot. Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting has scored twice in warm-up games to confirm his place in the side, although he doesn’t always appear the best team player. On the opposite side, Vincent Aboubakar had a great season with Lorient, is another good dribbler and can also dart into the box to become a second striker too.

Individually, the three forwards are all excellent. But, on and off the pitch, it’s all about how Cameroon work as a group.

Quick guide

Coach: Volker Finke - playing more defensively than he would like

Formation: It should be a 4-3-3

Key player: Song has to provide the creativity

Strength: Three dangerous forwards

Weakness: Lack of off-field cohesion

Key tactical question: Who completes the midfield trio?


Cameroon: need to get the midfield balance right

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