THE WEEKEND: OSIMHEN, AZEEZ, CHUKWUEZE, TOMORI
Victor not afraid to get stuck in.
The theme of Victor Osimhen’s Lille career to date has been the sheer efficiency of his performances. Of course, that is the charitable read; for some, it can be viewed as an indictment of his all-round skillset. However, when you are a striker, sticking them in the back of the net is really about as much as one can ask of you.
However, when he does not score, it becomes all too apparent just how lightweight his performances are. Osimhen is not the type to hunt or kill his own game—he requires service in order to pose a threat to defenders, and without it he can be kept under wraps fairly easily.
That is why his contribution to Lille’s 1-1 draw against Rennes on Sunday was so important. Starved of the service that allows him to be lethal, he put his seemingly boundless energy to good use in pressing Jeremy Gelin, forcing an error, and unselfishly laying it on a plate for Jonathan Ikone to score Les Dogues first away goal of the season.
It was a nice change from being waited upon.
Ramon Azeez typifies Granada energy
Granada pulled off the upset of the weekend by beating reigning Spanish champions Barcelona at Nuevo Los Carmenes. And they did it in the most daring, thrilling fashion possible: they got in their faces.
Key to the home side’s strategy was the detail given to Ramon Azeez. Remember him?
The former Nigeria Under-17 skipper has taken a winding road through the Spanish lower divisions, and came up with Granada this season. Here, he was handed his first start this term with a specific brief: shutting down Frenkie De Jong as a sort of “destroyer n.10”.
It was in a similarly advanced position that former Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi used him in the 2014 World Cup opener against Iran. It proved a quite misguided choice: against a side focused on not conceding, pressing and energy is a lot less valuable than outright creativity in that area of the pitch.
Did it work here? Well, Barcelona were smothered completely, especially in the first half, unable to create anything of note as they struggled to get their deepest midfielder on the ball. Gone were the confident slaloms away from pressure that were a hallmark of that mythical Champions League run with Ajax last season, and instead De Jong often found himself harried back toward his own goal.
Azeez’s early goal was the headline, but really the rest of his performance was even more impressive.
Time away from spotlight will do Samu good
It is easy to forget sometimes it’s only been a year since Samuel Chukwueze made his senior debut for Villarreal in the Europa League. In that time, his star has shot up in unprecedented fashion; he has represented Nigeria at a major international tournament, attracted all kinds of interest from around Europe, and signed a management deal with Roc Nation Sports.
So far this season, he has yet to hit the same heights though. It was always likely he would struggle without the benefit of being an unknown quantity for opposing defences, and now comes the hard bit: adding consistency to his already obvious talent, while at the same time developing more strings to his bow.
As is often the case with learning, it is best done away from the public eye. Villarreal have left Chukwueze out from the start in the last two league matches, and it is easy to see why: over the first few games of he season, he had been pretty blinkered, needlessly running into cul-de-sacs. A bit of a time-out was needed to help him freshen up his decision-making.
It has worked swimmingly for the Yellow Submarine: two wins on the bounce have contributed to a much healthier league standing, and there was even enough time for their lively Nigerian winger to come off the bench against Real Valladolid on Saturday and assist the second in a confident 2-0 win. The chipped cross to the back post was perfectly weighted, but is precisely the sort of ball he might not have had the presence of mind to look up and play a few weeks ago.
Fikayo Tomori’s Liverpool display gives food for thought
The argument for who has been the biggest beneficiary of Frank Lampard getting the Chelsea job on a permanent basis will no doubt see Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham put forward. However, centre-back Fikayo Tomori has arguably seen his stock rise as much.
Against Liverpool on Sunday he was brilliant: he kept Mohamed Salah extremely quiet and, along with N’Golo Kante, allowed the Blues to persist with their very open structure without getting carved apart by the European champions.
Inevitably, this has stoked the fires of the discourse around just where his international future lies.
Abraham has strung Nigeria along for the past couple of years, but seems intent on representing England. Where Tomori is concerned, however, it is a lot less clear just where he ends up. Perhaps the biggest indicator is that, within the England set-up, there is the belief that they hold all the cards, having poached him in the first place from the Canada youth set-up.
Whatever the player decides, it is important to remember there is no “right” decision in matters such as these. Not every dual-nationality footballer who has opted to represent England has regrets, and so it is a little uncomfortable to see people try to subject the likes of Abraham and Tomori to emotional blackmail by bringing up John Fashanu and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
What is clear though is that if performances like this become the norm, it will be a lot harder for the Super Eagles to nip ahead of Three Lions. Whatever his eventual decision though, it should be accepted in good faith.