Showing tremendous discipline, determination and character, Kalisto Pasuwa’s side yet again proved they are the tough team to beat as they overcame Silver Strikers in the NBS Bank Charity Shield on Saturday.
Pasuwa’s ability to believe in the youngsters once again proved beyond reasonable doubt that if given a chance to play, they can turn things around for the betterment of his club.
One of the cornerstones of the hard-fought victory was their defensive organization. Clearly well-versed on the details of their roles and responsibilities, the Bankers, despite dominating possession for large spells, found it very challenging to break Kesten Simbi and Hadji Wali’s partnership.
Due to Silver having numerical superiority when passing from the midfield, the way Bullets’ line of Lanjesi Nkhoma, Babatunde Adepoju and Misheck Selemani performed dual roles of both pressing their man and curving their runs to block passing lanes to Taonga Chimodzi, the full-backs or return balls back to a central defender, was instrumental.
Altering their setup depending on whether their opponents dropped Patrick Macheso or Blessings Tembo deeper or built up with three in their first line, they did so coherently while maintaining Pasuwa’s principles.
Using specific triggers to ramp up their pressure, such as a backpass, a ball to the touch line or if an opponent received back to goal or in an open body posture, this worked nicely in forcing the Bankers to retrieve and no wonder they had only two shots at goal in the entire 90 minutes despite controlling ball possession.
This suited Bullets perfectly, for their central defenders enjoyed huge advantage in aerial duels and they were able to hold on to the ball to ease pressure which was exerted by the Bankers’ central midfield.
The fact Bullets’ midfielders were awake to this and got back quickly meant they frequently enjoyed an overload to regain second balls to immediately attack again.
As Pasuwa’s men retreated into a mid or low block, they settled into a 4-3-3, hoping to remain vertically and horizontally compact, to minimize the space in between the lines and in behind for the Bankers to exploit.
Having so many numbers blocking forward routes, this meant Silver Strikers had to go wide by introducing Duncan Nyoni and Maxwell Gasten, which led to them firing in many crosses into the box.
Reading these situations soundly, in combination with how they kept tabs on their marker and got positioning spot on, saw Bullets deal with deliveries into the area with minimal fuss.
Clever Mkungula also added an icing to the cake with his ability to tame all aerial balls into his hands.
Henry Kabichi’s role in blocking passes into Macheso was crucial too, as the striker’s diligence was a real highlight. Indeed, by cutting the supply line to one of Daniel Kabwe’s key men in connecting passages, Bullets hampered Silver Strikers’ ability to beat the press and get momentum going.
It also warrants mention how well the People’s Team dealt with Silver’s front three.
Aside from having their measure in headed battles, the way they got touch-tight whenever they checked towards the ball so they couldn’t turn and face, link play or execute their actions smoothly was crucial.
Moreover, knowing what a threat Stain Davie, Kaonga and Zebron Kalima are when running in behind, Bullets would tuck in the far-sided wing-back to give them a 4 v 3 and offer valuable cover.
Although the Area 47 based side did find some joy when Kalima dropped into the deep half spaces, when their frontline rotated cohesively and when Kabwe switched to a more attacking formation with the coming in of Nyoni and Frank Banda, Pasuwa was justifiably satisfied with his team’s stopping output.
“Firstly I can talk of fitness in the boys. Remember we had four weeks of pre-season training but we had talked to the boys to keep the ball away from opposition by having four guys in front of the ball by not throwing everyone forward. We didn’t want to have a scenario of being caught on counter attack and yes, we managed to keep the ball away from our opposition and we scored from a set piece and that goal was enough to win us the game,” he told reporters.
Upon shifting the focus to their offensive exertions, of which was much to admire, especially during the first half, their build up play obviously deserves praise, as their smartly devised mechanics bore fruit on many occasions.
Altering their shape in possession to more of 4-3-3 posed issues for Silver Strikers, with key features being how a youthful Patrick Mwaungulu ventured into an attacking midfield station and that Eric Kaonga and Gomezgani Chirwa pushed wide to operate in the wings, adding more attacking options for the men in red and white attire.
By instructing both the central midfielders to drop deep near the central defenders, Bullets lured out Silver’s midfielders to press high along with their forwards.
Seeing as Bullets kept their fullbacks wide and Babatunde and Mwaungulu usually pinned the opposing fullbacks deep, space was available to progress wide.
It was again an afternoon in which Pasuwa outsmarted Kabwe with his tactical ability.
Like he said, fitness was the main concern and if his boys adjust to his training methods, the People’s Team will once again be a team to beat this season.