To start with, it felt surreal watching Shillong Lajong FC. I remember those days when I coached Lajong fc – in Football Manager 2013-14. Names like Redeem, Pritam, Jacob, Rupert..etc were common in my virtual team and strangely it looks the same in real life. A pre-season match between champions of Meghalaya and Manipur was an opportunity for me to analyse Lajong FC – their players, style and all. Their opponents NEROCA FC have won the sate league undefeated and that is a morale booster.
THE FORMATION-Lajong FC
(The numbers I’ve left out is because I’ve forgotten it – Center Back, left winger- or my software does not have enough numbers – No. 25, 26. Striker and Centre forward.)
Both the teams came out in a 4-4-2 formation but Lajong were more of a 4-4-1-1 with No. 26 supporting the lone striker. And in some cases it became a 4-2-3-1.
NEROCA FC were undefeated in MSL because of their strong defense and their talented individuals which is way above the level of the rest of the teams. So this was going to be a challenge for them- against a club that has been playing in the highest league.
THE TACTICS – Lajong FC
During the warm ups, I noticed the Lajong players were practicing a pattern where in the defense would kick long balls to the wings. As expected, this same pattern was followed in the game. (As shown in the following picture)
The full backs would push higher to overload a side. The man-marking system of the opponent creates spaces in the wings of the attacking third. No.6 (Sana) kicks a long ball to the left shaded area which is space for No.19 to take advantage of. Neroca’s rigid man-marking defense makes them prone to such kind of patterns. Manipur State League did not have any team with such a dynamic tactic where movement, overloading of wings or off the ball movement by attacking players can result in goals.
Talking about movement of the ball, there was this moment when the ball was in the left side of the pitch. This attracted the opponents to that side leaving space on the right which the Lajong right back took advantage of. Basically, most of the opportunities for Lajong came through the wings but strangely, such a tactic was less frequent. And even if there was one, not many attackers were there to pounce on the ball in the penalty box.
The game ended in a tie-breaker with Lajong winning it but you would have expected more from a team playing in I-League. Anyways there were some important exclusions I guess. Rocus Lamare did not get play time and possibly there are some more foreigners yet to come.
But the way I see it, Lajong needs to ramp up its mid-field and forwards. Yes, they might have talented youngsters but you need consistency. If Singto can balance youth and experience, Lajong could have a better campaign than the last year. The chemistry between Centre backs is not smooth yet. But it is still early to comment too much on anything. All we can do is wait for the match against Bengaluru FC and hope the boys get some crucial points.