The latest reports indicate that Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has received an offer from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for an extension to his contract. This new deal, one might presume, would take the German through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Peel back the layers of claim and counter-claim, and what is abundantly clear is that the 66-year-old is on the right track with the national team. There has been some impatience regarding the pace of progress, as well as some misgivings about his technical expertise, but while both concerns are justifiable to some degree, Rohr has more than earned the right to continue.
One stick that has been used to beat him is the absence of discernible patterns to his side’s overall play. While that is obviously inaccurate, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the numbers, as a means of understanding his work so far.
For this purpose, the focus will be on competitive matches and official friendlies.
While the consensus is that the Super Eagles under Gernot Rohr has largely thrived in counterattacking situations, the number do not necessarily support this conclusion.
Of the 55 goals scored, only nine have been scored at the end of counter-attacking situations i.e. goals scored within 10 seconds of regaining possession. While some of them – the sweeping move that led to Bryan Idowu’s goal against Argentina in 2017, Ahmed Musa bringing down Victor Moses’ cross and slamming high into the net, and Victor Osimhen’s delicate dink in the 4-2 defeat of Lesotho, for instance – all stand out clearly in the memory, goals of that construction have actually only made up a small fraction.
There have been a surprising number of goals featuring sustained build-up in possession, as well as careful knitting together of play in attack. Thirty of 55 have come in this fashion; as early as Rohr’s second game in charge, Kelechi Iheanacho put Nigeria two goals ahead following some very intricate link-up play in the final third against Zambia in Ndola. Alex Iwobi’s winner in the reverse fixture, which qualified Nigeria for the 2018 World Cup, came at the end of an uninterrupted 14-pass move, and saw the ball worked from one flank to the other.
There were 17 passes leading up to Odion Ighalo’s shot off the upright at Wembley, from which Alex Iwobi halved the deficit against England. An 11-pass attack, starting from a throw-in on half-way, culminated in Samuel Chukwueze’s opening goal at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt. Not quite peak Barcelona, but by no means shabby.
In terms of timing, there is a pretty even split between first and second-half goals (25-30). However, it gets interesting when you get more exact with the distribution.
The most obvious takeaway from this is that the Super Eagles have typically been most dangerous between the 31st and 75th minutes. In fact, within this time frame, they will occasionally blitz the opposition: a 10-minute spell either side of half-time turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead against Argentina, another 10-minute show of force won the World Cup qualifier in Zambia, and three second-half minutes was all it took to score twice and eliminate Cameroon at the AFCON.
Also noteworthy is a tendency for Rohr’s charges to feel their way into a game attacking-wise; as is clear from the chart, it is not a foible that has been exploited to any great degree, fortunately for them.
Assist zones and types
Figuring out what zone of the pitch the Super Eagles play the final pass from can help pinpoint biases in attacking play. It works the other way as well: we can decipher areas of weakness defensively by considering where the assists have made by the opponent. Of course, this is not the most refined measure possible, but it is interesting nonetheless.
|Right (incl. half-space)||12||10|
|Left (incl. half- space)||14||4|
While assists are pretty evenly split between zones for Nigeria, there appears to be a right-sided focus by the opposition (i.e. Nigeria’s left-back zone). This might be explained by the relative instability in that position under Rohr; Elderson Echiejile, Ola Aina, Bryan Idowu, Tyronne Ebuehi and Jamilu Collins have all at some point played there.
In terms of the types of assist, there is a preference for cut-backs and square balls to provide finishing opportunities. This makes sense, and follows what some might consider best practice in chance creation in modern football; crosses are considered inefficient and so, especially considering the towering Paul Onuachu has mostly only featured as a substitute, only four assists have come via crosses into the box.
To address the elephant in the room right away: over the last four years, there has been a definite reliance on Odion Ighalo for goals. The Manchester United man leads in the scoring stakes with 13 under Rohr, and is also the only national team player to have scored a hat-trick under the German. His haul accounts for 23% of the total of 55; you might be surprised, however, to discover the next highest scorer.
Iwobi has quietly gone about making himself integral to the team, and it is a surprise that he is often the target of intense criticism. Notably, he does not take penalties, unlike Ighalo, whose total is propped up by four of them. It is also interesting how the Everton man features in most of the lengthy passing sequences touched upon earlier: either scoring himself or being involved in the build-up.
Even in terms of assists, Iwobi shows up very well, although the clear standout in this category is a certain Ahmed Musa, whose tally of seven is unmatched. Moses Simon’s corner-kick delivery also does wonders for him in this category.
Rohr has not made a habit of trailing at half-time – in the 33 games under review, he has either been ahead or level at the break in 25. Which is just as well, because the Super Eagles have a quite poor record when it comes to turning around half-time losing situations.
On only two occasions has Nigeria managed to overturn a half-time deficit: in the 4-2 and 3-2 wins over Argentina and Cameroon respectively.
The good news, however, is that when they have been ahead in the first period, they have so far not lost, and have only failed twice to convert that half-time advantage into victory. Both those incidents occurred in late 2019: against Ukraine (2-2) and Brazil (1-1).