ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app Ã¢ÂÂ from FFT and Opta, available now Ã¢ÂÂ to preview the Africa Cup of Nations - get the FREE Africa Cup of Nations version of Stats Zone now...
This is widely considered to be the final chance for the Ivory Coast generation led by Didier Drogba, who plays upfront with two of two other players well-known in the Premier League Ã¢ÂÂ his Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou and Arsenal forward Gervinho.
Favourites for the competition, Ivory CoastÃ¢ÂÂs problem is that they lack real creativity in midfield, depending upon the role Yaya Toure plays Ã¢ÂÂ he can be used either as a very attacking force, as he was for Manchester City last season (most notably in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United) or as a holding player, as in his Barcelona days. As a result, their style of play is direct, powerful and often a little predictable.
However, if you want to play that way, Drogba is as good a striker as youÃ¢ÂÂll find. The passes he received in his most recent game, ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs defeat to Aston Villa, shows a striker who generally stays in central positions and is happy to receive longer balls. His shooting was wayward, however Ã¢ÂÂ from his five attempts the only one on target was a penalty. He is the Ivory CoastÃ¢ÂÂs main man, but he shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be allowed to dominate proceedings too much.
Second favourites are Ghana, the only African side to progress past the group stage at the World Cup two years ago. They also enjoyed a good Africa Cup of Nations tournament in 2010, getting to the final by playing a counter-attacking game and relying on the pace of forward Asamoah Gyan, who scored the only goal in both the quarter-final and semi-final.
Gyan is a completely different type of forward to Drogba Ã¢ÂÂ and the diagram of his most recent complete game available on StatsZone, at home to Newcastle earlier this season, illustrates his style perfectly.
He rarely stays in central positions, even when playing as the lone striker Ã¢ÂÂ he works the channels and drifts out to the wings. However, heÃ¢ÂÂs so quick that he often finds he has no support, and takes shots from highly ambitious positions, meaning his shooting can be highly erratic.
SenegalÃ¢ÂÂs matches will be watched closely on Tyneside Ã¢ÂÂ NewcastleÃ¢ÂÂs new strike partnership of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse is the same combination likely to be used by Amara Traore at the ACoN.
It will be interesting to see which striker plays in which role. They are broadly similar players Ã¢ÂÂ Cisse is a classic number nine and thrives in the penalty box, and while Ba can play on the flank, heÃ¢ÂÂs excelled this year at Newcastle by playing as a classic centre-forward. Will Cisse be the main striker, or Ba?
BaÃ¢ÂÂs performance against Manchester United, his final game before departing for Africa, showed that heÃ¢ÂÂs more than capable of playing alongside another static central striker, in Shola Ameobi. There, the two collected plenty of long balls, and Ba never ventured to the flank in the final third.
It sums up Maroune ChamakhÃ¢ÂÂs woes: the last complete game heÃ¢ÂÂs played was a dead rubber Champions League tie away at Olympiacos. After a good start to life at Arsenal, his form over the last year has been horrendous, and with Robin van PersieÃ¢ÂÂs superb displays, Chamakh hasnÃ¢ÂÂt got much playing time in the Premier League this season.
The Moroccan is primarily seen as a number nine, a target for direct football Ã¢ÂÂ itÃ¢ÂÂs interesting how long many of the balls to him are, particularly considering the general style of ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs play.
That will probably be his role in this tournament Ã¢ÂÂ Morocco play with many attacking midfielders, with the likes of Mbark Boussoufa, Nordin Amrabat, Younes Belhanda, Adel Taarabt and Houssine Kharja to choose from, plus Youssouf Hadji as a second striker.
Chamakh will be asked to hold the ball up, and his role might be more about laying the ball off to runners, rather than shooting. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs probably a wise move if his recent goalscoring form is anything to go by.
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