Balestier 1 Home 1 | Favourites Home frustrated by well-drilled Balestier

Posted on February 16, 2011

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Balestier Khalsa pulled off the first real upset of the 2011 S.League season when they held Home United – tipped by punters and fans to be the champions this year – to a 1-1 draw at the Toa Payoh Stadium. While Home had most of the possession and looked enthusiastic to get the ball in advanced positions, Balestier negated their threat by playing a very well-drilled, compact 4-1-4-1 system, which was more fluid than it seems.

The Startling XIs

Balestier handed a debut to young Fariss Haiqel at rightback in the absence of the suspended Anaz Hadee. Armanizam Dolah sat in front of the defence and Poh Yi Feng, K Vikraman, Kim Young Kwang and Andrew Tan spread out across midfield ahead of him. Vitor Borges led the line alone.

Home set up shop in a straightforward 4-2-3-1 formation. New Korean star Kim Dae Eui played an orthodox right wing role, while Sufian Anuar played almost as a second striker on the left. Captain Shi Jiayi – the playmaker – played deep considering his role, and had a nondescript game overall. This meant that Home often resorted to playing high balls – either crosses or passes from deep – to lanky frontman Fred Mendy.

Cunningham’s awesome show

When Balestier centre-half Paul Cunningham does his laundry later this week, he might just find  Mendy tumbling out of his pockets. Because that was where the Frenchman was for most of last night’s game.

The Kiwi absolutely dominated Mendy in the air, and while last year’s top-scorer did win a couple of flick ons, this meant that Home’s long-ball tactic was overall negated. What I did not understand was why Home coach Lee Lim Saeng – having seen Mendy struggle againt Cunningham in the centre – did not move his new striker wide and play diagonal balls towards the far post. There, Mendy would have been up against either Fariss or K Sathiaraj – both weak in the air – and he could have had more joy there.

This is not a new tactic. Just last evening, Peter Crouch did the same thing for Tottenham Hotspurs to good effect. He moved to Milan’s right back Ignazio Abate was, and easily won possession in the box from the crosses of orthodox winger Aaron Lennon. Having said this, Mendy had a poor game anyway, and didn’t look in it at all. There is a chance he would have been ineffective even when up against weaker individuals too.

Armanizam & Kim’s mobility

Armanizam Dolah was very disciplined in dropping back in between Cunningham and Lim Young Woo when Home was about to enter the final third of the pitch. This is very similar to the role Sergio Busquets played in for Barcelona sometimes last year. This meant that Balestier had an extra man in defence, so they coped easily on the rare occasion Mendy won a headed flick on, or when a cross came in from wide areas.

Kim’s role was equally important. The hardworking Korean is not the quickest of players – in fact among the four midfielders ahead of Armanizam, he was the slowest. But everytime Vikraman led a counter-attack by releasing Vitor into the channels or playing the ball to the Brazilian’s feet, Kim would be the one steaming forward ahead of Vitor to provide a presence upfront.

This meant that when Balestier were without the ball, they were very, very compact, and Home had no success in breaking them down, resorting to long balls to Mendy, which as I pointed out earlier, did not work well. It also has to be pointed out that all the Balestier midfielders were very economical with their passes, and did not waste many balls. Vikraman and Armanizam, who played most of their forward passes, had very good games in terms of distribution.

Home’s desperation

It was clear Lee Lim Saeng wanted to win this game. He made two changes at half-time (Firdaus Kasman for Rosman Sulaiman, and Asraf Rashid for Isa Halim), switching to a 4-4-2 with two out-and-out forwards. And when that did not work, he threw on young striker Zulkifli Suzliman for defender Abdil Qaiyyim (who was struggling with cramps) in the 70th minute.

That meant for the last 20 minutes, Home played in a 3-1-4-2 formation, with five players attacking the Balestier goal, Firdaus Kasman sitting in midfield and Jiayi assuming a stopper role. Zulkifli seemed to play more on the left – possibly to target the debutant Fariss – but Fariss did very well to cope with the pressure on his flank.

Home did have a couple of moments in the final minutes where they could – and should – have netted the winner from goalmouth scrambles, but found Balestier’s defenders and goalkeeper Joey Sim throwing their bodies in the way of all their efforts.

Conclusion

Home will be a bit disappointed at the result, but considering this was a well-drilled and very disciplined Balestier team they were facing, they should not be too worried. They will face teams with worse tactical awareness than Salim Moin’s side, and they will probably easily overpower such teams.

On Balestier’s part, they should be delighted at the result. Not only did they gain a point against the title favourites, their collective performance was superb, and if they can keep up this good attitude, they should finish well clear of the bottom two or three positions again.

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