Welcome to the latest edition of our World Cup tactics board, where we look at the Super Eagles.
Nigeria were the first African nation to seal their place in Russia after topping their group with 14 points from six games.
Formation and Style
The Eagles play a shrewd 4-2-3-1 formation you’ll see at the finals, with Gernot Rohr preaching discipline, tracking and numbers at the back.
His back four are a genuine back four, with the full-backs only venturing forward for the odd attack and throw-ins. Out of possession, they’re as flat as can be, charged with man-marking the wingers and harassing midfield runners.
The Super Eagles are happy to sit off the ball when their opponents have it in their own half. Far removed from any form of high-press strategy, opposing centre-backs will have all the time in the world to pick a pass.
The problem is that there are no options, as Nigeria swamp out the midfield by switching into a deep 4-4-1-1, 4-1-4-1 or 3-5-2 and man-mark all outlets. They barely encroach upon ballplayers to pressure and instead decide to present the opposition with no options.
Inevitably, players get fed up and play longer, riskier passes.
If the opposition are able to work it forward – via pass, overload or dribble—Iran become snappy and aggressive in hunting down the ball, treading the thin line between firm challenge and foul on a regular basis.
They’re often touch-tight and work incredibly hard to win the ball back, but once they have it, that’s where the problems start.
Offensively, they are stunted, and it doesn’t help when all they do going forward is pass it to John Obi Mikel and hope he can pick out a stunning, incisive long pass.
Obi will always look to the wings first and foremost to release a runner, and Alex Iwobi has impressed on the right with his hard running, opportunistic releases and enthusiasm.
How will Iwobi cope against the defences of Argentina, Croatia and Iceland?
Reasons for Hope
This Nigerian side is extremely well-drilled. Every player knows his job off the ball and has subscribed to Rohr‘s way of thinking.
The defensive unit, led by William Troost Ekong, looks settled and competent. Ekong himself commands an organised back line and barks orders at his full-backs on a regular basis.
Wilfred Ndidi, Mikel’s midfield partner, is also more than handy and has experience in the Premier League.
Victor Moses will give them an attacking edge, but he’ll be required to make his own chances and finish them himself. Mikel will make the first pass, but beyond that, it’s up to him.
Kelechi Iheanacho is a wild-card substitution capable of winning a game, but he lacks consistency and lost his starting place over the last two games.
Reasons for Concern
With the exception of Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Moses, John Obi Mikel and Alex Iwobi you worry about the durability of this side over the course of 90 minutes against the super stars of Argentina, Croatian and Iceland.
“Resting in possession,” a la Barcelona, doesn’t have to be taken too seriously by international teams, but the Eagles could do with adopting a little bit more patience on the ball. Quality, or a lack thereof, factors in here, of course.