How Bullets’ tactical approach won the Cup final

A Nyasa Big Bullets and a Mafco fight for the ball in the FDH Cup final

FCB Nyasa Big Bullets successfully defended the FDH Bank Cup on Sunday afternoon at Bingu National Stadium with a 3-0 hammering of Mafco FC to win their first silverware this season.

An early brace from Lanjesi Nkhoma, the first of which came after only 6 minutes and set a record for the fastest goal ever in the cup final, set the tone for a match dominated by the defending champions.

But what was the difference between the two teams? Malawi24 takes a look at how Kalisto Pasuwa outsmarted his opposite number, Prichard Mwansa.

Overload in central midfield

Pasuwa set his team up in a 4-3-3 shape, with Frank Willard guarding the midfield and allowing Patrick Mwaungulu and Chawanangwa Gumbo to play as two number 10s behind Ephraim Kondowe With his aggressiveness, the military side could not manage to handle him as he kept on pressing and in the process, creating enough spaces for Mwaungulu and Billiat to press into the offensive zones before feeding Lanjesi Nkhoma who scored two quick goals in a similar fashion as the visitors’ back-four was torn apart.

Bullets’ defense and double pivot of Precious Phiri and Gomezgani Chirwa made a five that overloaded Mafco’ defensive zone.

The visitors failed to mark Mwaungulu, who completely destroyed them with his creativity when in possession of the ball. This gave Bullets deeper players the opportunity to penetrate with either forward passes or dribbles into the midfield.

Direct access to Kondowe

The number 10s held their positions inside channels, freeing up space for Kondowe to drop in and connect with Bullets backline.

Whenever the Mafco’ front line marked closely around Bullets’ deeper midfielders, the back four simply bypassed them and played into Kondowe’s feet. This served to take out four players with just one pass. Forward runs inside from Mwaungulu and Gumbo, then created a wider passing option into wingers Nkhoma and Billiat.

Number 10 runs in behind

Forward runs from the two number 10s proved key to Bullets’s attacking threat in both halves. Both Billiat and Nkhoma moved more towards the ball and received deeper than Mafco’ back line. The full-backs initially let them receive freely, but eventually jumped out in an attempt to limit their ball-carrying threat.

From here, spaces emerged for Mwaungulu and Gumbo to run behind. As one penetrated into the corner of the penalty area, the other would join Kondowe as a second central threat. One of the double pivots, usually Chirwa, would push through central spaces and lock off the edge of the box.

It was one such run from Mwaungulu that led to a long pass that found Billiat to the far end and delivered an excellent cross to Nkhoma who had a simple finish of putting the ball into an empty net.

Dealing with Mafco’s man-marking

As they chased the game, Mafco ended with only one real centre-back in Paul Ndhlovu.

Adding an extra player in central midfield effectively made it a man-for-man contest in every area of the pitch. This negated Bullets’ overload in midfield, but it gave Kondowe the time and space to pin Ndhlovu and offered teammates a direct forward passing option to keep gaining territory as they looked to see out the match.

Nkhoma and Billiat maintained their width , which stretched Mafco’ defense and provided spaces for Mwaungulu, Gumbo, and Willard to attack into.

Narrow attacking numbers

Mwansa set his team up in their familiar 4-4-2 shape, with a narrow three-man attacking unit of Kingsley Nkhonjera, Paul Phiri, and Bernard Chimaimba to support Phillimon.

This shape put them in a great position to counter-press high up the pitch, but on the ball, they lacked quality. Despite gaining some good possession and territory at some point, they struggled to create meaningful chances. The width was offered by full-backs Aubrey Chafewa and Wakisa Kalinga, but they lacked a focal point at whom to aim crosses.

Yohane Malunga tried to make late runs towards the back post, thus avoiding Bullets’ high pressing wingers to make more damage, but Mafco did not try this potentially effective strategy enough in the first half

Counter-attacks on the right

As Mafco dropped deeper to defend in the first half, counter-attacking moments offered Bullets their best chance of progression. This was particularly the case on their right side, where Billiat caused havoc and made bending runs to stretch Ndhlovu at the centre of Mafco. Mwaungulu would drift inside and pull off to seek space on the opposite side, with Gumbo and at times also Willard moving across to provide support to Kondowe and Nkhoma, the latter of whom looked to push forward from his starting position in the double pivot.

Kondowe’ attacking energy

The introduction of Kondowe in the first eleven gave Bullets more energy and dribbling threats. On a different day, Mafco would expect to see the likes of Hassan Kajoke in the first team, but Kondowe was a difference between the two teams. His ability to bulldoze Ndlovu and his fellow defenders helped Bullets to create more attacking width on the right, with Mwaungulu and Gumbo adding more numbers in attack and open more spaces for the wingers who created the goals.
The visitors were lucky to only concede three goals in the entire match as Bullets kept on pushing for more and created plenty of goal scoring opportunities. When Kondowe was taken off for Anthony Mfune, Ndhlovu was relieved as he was now able to move forward to add numbers for the visitors who, for the first time, created two back-to-back chances, one of which hit the post towards the end of the match.

In all fairness, Pasuwa played a fast one on Mwansa, who was expecting him to use the familiar faces only to see a very changed line up.

The Zimbabwean defended his decision to leave several of his key players on the bench, saying football is evolving, and he expects each and every player to play a role.

“Football is evolving. Remember, we have been playing games in which some of these players have been playing regularly, hence the need to manage them in order for us to finish the games that are coming ahead. In playing so many games, we need to give more playing minutes to each and everyone whom we registered to play his role and we have been telling each and everyone of them to use their chances to prove to us that they are part of the team.”

“The players we used did a very good job by playing to the instructions. Ephraim was top notch, Billiat had an assist, and everyone played the game so well,” he concluded.

The People’s Team proudly cashed in, celebrated, and kept the trophy home.