I think Nigeria should be lining up in a 3-5-2 formation, as we would automatically have more cover defensively.
Everyone agrees the defence is an area of concern, but if Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr plays Leon Balogun, John Ogu and William Troost Ekong together you would protect the back line – especially if Croatia play in what we expect to be a 4-3-3 formation.
Ogu would have licence to roam, but the onus would be on the two ahead of him – John Obi Mikel and Wilfred Ndidi, in my team – to support the trio Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses. Of those two, Mikel has to play centrally.
Brian Idowu would be on the left and Tyrone Ebuehi would be my surprise selection on the right. I have been really impressed by him in recent matches, and his composure could be key.
Why I would not pick Simy?
Simy is clearly in the form of his life, but if you have him in the team you have to play to his strengths. By that I mean balls over the top that he can run on to, with regular phases of play where he is constantly on the shoulder of the last man, waiting for the right pass.
Quite simply, I do not think Croatia will allow us to play to those strengths. They will sit deep, which means Simy will not get the opportunity to play his normal game. If they are sitting on the edge of the penalty area I do not think we need Simy – we need a player such as Iwobi to help link play, with Simy a superb option off the bench.
Nigeria should stay away from the diamond
The midfield diamond can be effective but I fear it does not get the best out of the players at Nigeria’s disposal as seem in recent friendlies against England and Czech Republic. In fact, it may make our team weaker than the sum of its parts.
The problem with the diamond formation is that you need your full-backs to push up, which leaves you exposed defensively.
To counter that, Ighalo and Iwobi played as split strikers against England and both moved wide to do extra defensive work. That solves one problem but creates another. In the first half neither of them was able to get into the game and rarely looked a goal threat. It also asks a huge amount of the player at the base of the diamond – and for me the only option there is Mikel, who is disciplined enough to make the role his own.