Updated: Oct 14, 2018
India took on China in a "historic" friendly in Suzhou in what turned out to be an excruciating game for both sides. China repeatedly hammered shots at the Indian goal and, on one occasion, were mere centimetres from scoring what would have been a well deserved goal but just couldn't find their way in. Meanwhile, India were holding on for dear life and managed to get a respectable, if flukey, draw.
China lined up in a high 4-2-3-1 with their fullbacks pushed even higher up the pitch. India were in their usual 4-4-2 mid-block with the two forwards cutting the lane to China's deepest midfielder player. As a result, China had to play out through their fullbacks and then into the gap between the Indian midfield and forwards. The Indian wide midfielders would then try to tuck in but that would expose the wings for the Chinese fullbacks.
If the wide midfielders didn't tuck in, the defence was hesitant to leave their line and follow a forward, which meant that Anirudh Thapa and Pronay Halder usually had 4, and at times 5, Chinese players to deal with. On these occasions, China could recycle possession and try to move the defence around or play a vertical ball into the forwards and try to force the Indians to make a mistake.
China's midfield domination ensured that India were pegged back for long periods of the game and found it hard to break out. There are some sides that do well in these situations, but this Indian side lacks the discipline to do so. Eventually, somebody gets sucked out of position to win the ball and leaves a gap open.
As shown in the next image, Thapa has left his position (red circle and line) to press the ball and a gap is open in the Indian midfield line (yellow). This leave Pronay Halder with too much space to cover and India, in general, are open to overloads on the wing. In this situation, we only give away a free kick but if you're a regular visitor to this blog, you'll know that it happens to India again, and again, to more dire consequences.
An extra player, or even a #10, would be able to make the movement along the orange line and cover the space, which Sunil Chhetri is doing on this occasion. I think it is unfair to ask the nation's record goalscorer to occupy such positions on the field. The further Chhetri is from the opponent's goal, the less useful he is on the pitch. Likewise, Udanta, Narzary are also in deep positions trying to protect their fullbacks. From these positions, it's impossible to constantly make runs up field to support the forwards.
Unsurprisingly, the structural flaws in the Indian system mean that China managed to create 20 chances in the game, only 4 of which were outside the box. In fact 50% of China's chances came from within prime zones in the box.
On the rare occasion that India attacked, they weren't that bad. The problems for India come when the team either tries to kick the ball long and into space. We do not have the players who can cover 50m in 5 seconds and hold up the ball, just as we don't have the players to make 1000 passes per game. We need to be smarter with the way we play and I believe that an intelligent pressing game is the way forward, AFTER the AFC Championship.
Solutions - The way I see it, we need to embrace the deep block, defensive game that Constantine wants to play. If we don't change tactics, Jeje and Anirudh Thapa are liabilities and we should look at replacing the two of them with players more suited to the coach's tactics.
India lack pace and power up front and Jeje does not provide an outlet for the counter-attack nor does he battle and annoy centre-halves. Manvir and Passi are probably more suited to the role that Jeje is being asked to play. Another option would be to drop Jeje for a midfielder and let Thapa keep his spot. This would allow Thapa to focus on the attack and also provide an extra body, to cover for the youngster's defensive sloppiness.
Expected Goals and story of the game-