Will Ghana’s new generation solve their creativity problem?

Since the 2006 World Cup, Ghana have generally played a more reactive style of football. Claude Le Roy’s short two year spell saw Ghana employ a slightly more proactive style of play using a basic 4-4-2. Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien took turns to go forward and hold in the middle of the park; Quincy Owusu-Abeyie played as an inverted winger high on the left flank with Laryea Kingston playing as a wide midfielder deeper on the opposite wing; John Paintsil looked to aggressively overlap him while Hans Sarpei was more conservative at left back. Asamoah Gyan and Junior Agogo were both adept at playing as target men, dropping deep and linking up with midfielders or making threatening runs in behind the defence.

Milovan Rajevac’s reign in charge of the Black Stars was home to what could be described as boring to some but undoubtedly effective football. The 2010 African Cup of Nations provided a glimpse of what was to come months later at the subsequent World Cup, setting up in two deep-lying banks of four with Anthony Annan in between and looking to counter attack at speed. Ghana, with the excellent hold up play of Gyan and the direct running of Andre Ayew and Kevin-Prince Boateng came out of the World Cup with plaudits as they were an un-fancied side, although to be fair they were severely underestimated by unknowledgeable pundits. However it was their opening match against Serbia, where they struggled to create clear cut chances against the Eastern Europeans until Serbia had to go for broke, which was an indicator of the dearth of creativity in the team that would come to plague Ghana in the future.

Before Ghana’s recent rise on the international scene it was okay for them to sit back and break on the counter but now they find themselves having to take the game to other teams and struggling – two good examples of this are their recent matches against Zambia in the 2012 African Cup of Nations and the 2014 World Cup qualifier. In both games, Ghana went behind and failed to break down Zambia’s two banks of four, but a new generation of players coming into the team may help them solve their creative problems.

The left back position has been a problem position for Ghana as their left winger has often been left alone against the opposition’s right midfielder and right back with hardly any support from the full back – this was the case against Zambia in the African Cup of Nations as Lee Addy’s position didn’t allow Ghana to have an out-ball and stretch play, which left Jordan Ayew isolated and Ghana predictable. There are a number of full backs that could provide the attacking width for Ghana: Liege’s Daniel Opare and Esperance’s Harrison Afful, although not natural left backs, would easily provide more attacking thrust than Addy. Also, Baba Abdul Rahman and Richard Kissi Boateng are natural left backs, making them ones to look at in the future.

The use of two pure holding midfielders had often meant that Ghana do not have somebody more creative in a deep position that can switch the angle of attack. Players like Sulley Muntari have also been used in attacking midfield positions and left the team disjointed, however the rise of a new generation of attacking midfielders could have a knock on effect for both positions. The likes of Solomon Asante, Christian Atsu and Jordan Ayew, who are all capable of good interchanging of positions, dribbling and eye of the needle passes from the positions behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 means that players like Muntari and Kwadwo Asamoah can drop back into a deep-lying regista role and add more creativity to the side, especially as Asamoah has often played directly behind the striker and been ineffective.

Lastly, there is now more variation to the strikers Ghana have at their disposal. Gyan is a good all-rounder, Berekum Chelsea’s Emmanuel and Jordan Ayew provide good movement and searing pace to threaten the back of a defence, and Richmond Boakye-Yiadom, who recently signed for Juventus after good performance for Sassuolo on loan from Genoa, is a good presence in the box if Ghana want to use crosses as a means of scoring when struggling to break down deep defences.

The onus is now on Kwesi Appiah to integrate the new generation with the current Black Stars so Ghana, although still being able to play to their rapid counter attacking strengths, can unlock troublesome defences if need be, meaning they can progress even further in the next African Cup of Nations and World Cup.

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