Given that it is the first time in history that Zamalek, the holder of five titles of the African Champions League and the most crowned club in the continental championships in the twentieth century, are matched against their traditional rivals Al-Ahly who won this tournament eight times.
Zamalek, the holder of the CAF and Super African Cup last season, seeks to achieve their sixth title in their history and has been absent from them for eighteen years, while Al-Ahly aspires to achieve their ninth title in this championship after a series of disappointments in two consecutive finals in 2017 and 2018.
Zamalek will enter the match under the leadership of their Portuguese coach Jaime Pacheco with the usual 4-2-3-1 formation unless any injuries appear in the main line-up, especially in light of the recent injuries to both EPL players Mohamed Salah from Liverpool, and Mohamed Elneny from Arsenal, in the last camp of Egypt.
We predict the line-ups will be as follows:
Muhammad Abu Jabal as the goalkeeper and the four-line defence made up of Hazem Emam on the right after he recovered from Covid-19, Abdullah Gomaa the left-back, Mahmoud Hamdi Al-Wensh and Mahmoud Alaa as the centre-backs.
In the midfield will likely be Tarek Hamed and Ferjani Sassi, for more harmony between them; their attacking trio of Ahmed Al-Sayed Zizo, 24-year-old Moroccan Ashraf Bencharki, and Youssef Obama; and the attack to be led by Mustafa Muhammad.
Al-Ahly will enter the match under the leadership of South African coach Pitso Mosimane, and probably in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation.
We’ll likely see El-Shenawy as the goalkeeper and in defence, Al-Ahly will play with four players, Muhammad Hani, Ali Maaloul, Yasser Ibrahim, and Ayman Ashraf. The midfield duos are likely to be Amr Al-Soulia and Alio Diang, the three below the striker made up of Mohamed Majdi Kafsha, Hussein Al Shahat, and Junior Ajay, while the striker would be Marwan Mohsen.
Zamalek’s low pressure and their defensive style
Zamalek’s players are distinguished by their defensive performance in the big games in their recent matches. This style, which is considered alien to the style of Zamalek’s playing, as they have always been characterised by the more enjoyable offensive play.
Zamalek’s players always prefer low pressure to maintain their physical strength throughout the match, which makes them always able to come back in the matches, no matter how late, as evidenced in the recent matches against Moroccan Raja in the Champions League semi-final and Zed club in the quarter-final of the Egypt Cup.
Zamalek players are characterised by moderate pressure, as we mentioned, so that they can continue at the same pace, and this we can note below in the PPDA report for their match against Raja in the second leg of the semi-final of the African Champions League.
Zamalek appeared with a somewhat average PPDA of 13.7 passes in their half without pressure.
When Zamalek players are in a defensive phase, they usually line up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, closing the depth of the field so that the opponent’s players are not allowed to pass in the back of their defence.
They do this simply as Hamed drops in front of the defence line, where he is the head of the inverted triangle and the nearby winger Sassi joins in the depth while Mustafa Muhammad moves to close the half-space as shown below.
Zamalek’s attacking phase
Zamalek’s players always rely on Hamed and Sassi to distribute passes on the sides and the depth during transitions from defence to attack; here we can see that Hamed and Sassi are the midfielders with the highest stats in passing and receiving passes in their last match against Raja.
Zamalek players in the attacking phase depend mainly on the right side, where Zizou is present and is always the offensive key to for Zamalek as shown below in the xG report by the flanks, in which the xG percentage from the right side is 58% of the total expected goals throughout the match.
In the transitions, Mustafa Muhammad always moves to the half-spaces to receive the pass sent from the back, and attracts the opponent’s defender with him, while Bencharki enters the space that resulted from the defender’s movement with Mustafa Muhammad as shown below.
When Zizo is on the right side, Bencharki enters the box as the second striker with Mustafa, as shown below.
Al-Ahly’s attacking phase
Al-Ahly’s players in the offensive phase always rely on passing a lot in the middle third to get the opponent’s players out of their areas and then pass vertical passes behind the opponent’s defence.
Here in the passing map for the Ahly and Wydad match, Ahly’s players passed in the middle third by 53% of the total passes throughout the match.
Al-Ahly players are doing this smoothly, as they have repeated it frequently in their last few matches under Mosimane’s leadership when the wingers drop into the midfield while Kafsha moves into the gaps between the lanes.
The opposition players move to pressure Al-Ahly players in the middle third, leaving spaces behind them that the Al-Ahly players use in passing and creating dangerous opportunities.
Below we can see that both Al Shahat and Ajay dropped to the midfield, and while the opponent’s defenders moved to put pressure on them, Al-Soulia passed behind them, and Mohsen used it to score a goal for Al-Ahly.
Here is another example of this case, where Al-Ahly players passed the ball a lot around the box until they attracted the opponent’s players to press them, then Al-Soulia passed it into the left half-space towards Al Shahat, but he did not use it well to score a goal.
Al Ahly’s defensive issues
Al-Ahly’s defence problem, which they always suffer from, is poor coverage on the left side which opponents always use to attack from, as shown below in the xG report by flanks whereby the xG percentage from the right side of Wydad (left for Al-Ahly) 95% of the total expected goals throughout the match.
Here, for example, the right-back of Wydad moves without pressure to receive a pass in the half-space, while the Al-Ahly back stands alone without pressure on him.
Also among the defensive mistakes of Al-Ahly players is the lack of monitoring in the cross balls, and we can notice that below how the Al-Ahly players stand inside the penalty area without monitoring the opponent’s players, as there were two of Wydad’s players inside the box in a dangerous area without pressure.
It is a big match by all accounts and beyond expectations due to the close technical level of both teams, so this match will certainly be recorded in history as the winner will win the first Champions League at the expense of their traditional rivals, and the metaphorical gates of hell will open for the loser.
Zamalek will attack from the sides and rely on the transitions, while Al-Ahly players will try to attract Zamalek players out of their areas and then pass behind them. However, it will be an exceptional match.