It seems that Algeria is living in a beautiful period in football, not only in terms of players but even coaches. After the coach of the Algerian national team, Djamel Belmadi, won the third-best coach award for 2019, another Algerian coach appeared on the global and Arab arena.
Noureddine Zekri, an Algerian coach, lived in Italy and studied football there. He trained some teams in the Serie D, but he was not lucky enough to reach the Serie A. After that, he returned to his country and won some titles with the Algerian team, ES Setif. He then moved to the Gulf.
Zekri did a great job with Damac last season, saving them from falling dramatically. This season, he continued his training and is trying to keep the club out of the red zone and keep it in the Pro League.
In this tactical analysis, we will analyse the philosophy of coach Noureddine Zekri, and the defensive tactics he uses with Damac FC in the defensive phase. We will also explain some of the gaps in his defence system that made him suffer at the start of the season.
Zekri maintained the same formation in all matches this season, playing 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-3, but only the numbers differ. On the field, he uses the same positioning and the same tactical ideas.
As for the names, Zekri is continually changing. In the backline, it appears that Tareq Abdullah Mohammed, Farouk Chafaï and Cristian Lema have secured a starting place, but the left full-back changes from match to match.
In midfield, Sergio Vittor played all the matches in the “6” position, while Bilel Saidani and Mohammed Atiah alternate positions with Ayman Yusef Al Hujaili and Abdulaziz Majrashi.
In the front line, most likely Ibrahim Chenihi and Mohammed Mohsen Harzzan play on the sides, while Emilio José Zelaya, the former Inter player, has played in all matches this season.
Damac defends with a 4-1-4-1 formation, where the wings retract and a four-player line forms with the pivots. Their defensive system is a mixture of zonal-marking and man-marking. It means that the team will be stationed in a specific area, and when the ball reaches that area, the team will switch to the man-marking system.
Damac Club defends with a medium block, forming a 4-1-4-1 formation where most of the players are stationed in their half and do not apply any pressure in advanced areas, and when the ball reaches or approaches their half, they will implement a man-marking system. All Damac players are responsible for marking a player from the opponent’s team.
For example, in this picture, each player is close to the ball holder or can offer the ball carrier a passing option marked by Damac Club players.
These pictures show us more the defensive style that Noureddine Zekri applies with Damac Club. For example, in this picture, Mohammed Nahiri retreated to receive the ball, but Al Hujaili quickly followed him to prevent him from receiving the ball.
In this picture also, the wing-back of Al-Ain drops to receive the ball, but the Damac full-back Tareq Mohammed quickly followed him to prevent him from doing that.
This is a similar picture, Filip Bradarić tried to retreat to receive the ball from the centre-back, but Tareq followed him and pressed him from the back.
The defensive structure of coach Noureddine Zekri always guarantees a 2v1 situation in the back. In this way, one of the centre-backs can follow the striker if he steps back to receive the ball. For example, in this picture, Lema followed the opponent’s striker and recovered the ball.
Gaps in long balls
There are many gaps in Damac’s structure, which we will explain in this analysis. These gaps saw the team concede the most goals in the Saudi league this season and was classified as the worst defence in the league.
In fact, it is one loophole that has subsequently created several other loopholes. This loophole is the lack of pressure from Zekri’s team in advanced areas since it gives more freedom to the backline, and this the opponent can use to create spaces in half of Damac club.
In the beginning, not pressing on the backline, the centre-backs are free, and they can advance the ball forward without pressure, this gives them time and space to make the right decisions and implement them accurately.
For example, in this picture, centre-back Igor Rossi Branco managed to advance the ball to half of Damac club, due to the lack of pressure in advanced areas. Moreover, since every player is busy marking the opponent player, Rossi got the space and time to play a long ball behind the backline.
If the opposition’s midfield players retreat, Damac club players will follow them, it will produce a form similar to high pressure, but the gap will remain, and the centre-back will remain free.
For example, in this picture, the midfielders of Al-Faisaly SC retreated, followed by Damac club players, but the centre-back is still free and can play long and accurate balls. Moreover, striker Júlio Tavares had a wide space in which he could receive the ball.
Even the opponent midfield players can obtain the freedom, and distribute the balls without any pressure because falling back repeatedly will confuse the Damac players, and here they will be able to get large spaces in their half.
For example, in this picture, Bradarić slipped back, and Damac’s players were late to follow him. This gave him a wide space in which he could play an accurate long ball, creating a 1V1 situation.
The same thing in this picture; there is no pressure on the ball carrier in the final third, and thus, he got space to play along, accurate ball behind the backline of Damac.
Ease of creating numerical superiority
Noureddine Zekri prefers to abandon the idea of pressure in advanced regions and lose numerical superiority in the final third, in order to create numerical superiority in its own third. That is the idea, giving the opponent’s centre-backs a 2v1 situation and his team’s centre-backs a 2v1 situation in the defensive phase.
This idea not only made it easier for the opponent to play long, accurate balls but also made the opponents able to create numerical superiority in the middle and break the balance of the defensive structure of the team.
Because the opponent team can create numerical superiority in the front, and when they expand the width of the field Zelaya will be unable to control them, and here the ball carrier will be able to move the ball towards half of Damac
For example, in this picture, the centre-back was not subjected to any pressure and was able to advance the ball to half of Damak club, this forced the midfielder to move towards him and pressure him, in this way the Al- Faisaly player Markel escaped the mark.
This is a similar scenario, the ball carrier advances with the ball, and Atiah is forced to move towards him, in this way the opponent can create a 3v2 position in the centre of the field.
Ease of creating space
This gap makes the opponent able to create spaces in-depth easily, and in the same way, the opponent will use the space in which no pressure is applied, which is the final third or the beginning of the middle third.
An idea used by Al- Faisaly club, which is to retreat one of the pivots back, the player of Damac Club will be a little late in catching him, in this way, there will be space behind him, which the ball holder can exploit because the player of Damac Club will be late in reaching him.
For example, in this picture, Saidani was late in reaching Abdulaziz Al-Shereid at the right time, which made him able to receive the ball without pressure.
After receiving the ball, he was able to pass into the empty space behind them, and actually, the opponent’s wing retreated and received the ball in the empty space. Now Al Faisaly club can create a dangerous opportunity.
A great idea also used by Al Ain Club, it was playing in a 3-5-2 formation, the coach asked the pivots to back to half of them, in this way they will be able to drag the players of Damac club. Since the centre-backs are free, they will be able to pass to the empty space, where the Al Ain team created 1v1 situations and a large empty space.
For example, in this picture, Bradarić slipped back, the former Inter player, Saphir Taïder moved quickly in the empty space, and could receive the ball because the centre-back was not subjected to any pressure.
This is almost a similar picture, where Taïder pulled back and pulled a player, this created an area in which the striker fell, in this way Al Ain Club can play short, fast and accurate passes because there are spaces that Damac failed to protect.
The problem of flexibility
The application of the man-marking system needs a lot of focus and intelligence because you will give up the essential tool to protect yourself, which is the space. If you encounter a flexible opponent and his players’ exchange positions quickly and thoughtfully and your team is not characterised by much focus and intelligence, your team will be in real trouble.
Unfortunately, Damac club somewhat lacks the two advantages, and suffered a lot against Al-Shabab and Al-Hilal, because these clubs were very flexible, and created many problems for Noureddine Zekri’s defensive team system.
For example, in this picture, Éver Banega received the ball, and at the same time the winger Nawaf Alduraywish moved to the deep, this made the full-back Zubeidi follow him, and Vittor left Banega. This way, Banega can pass sideways and create a 1v1 situation.
This is a similar picture; the Alduraywish moved from side to deep quickly, this distorted the focus of the full-back Zubeidi and did not follow him, this made the player free without a mark in zone 14, in this way he can receive the ball in a very dangerous area.
This point is very dangerous, because any team with flexibility will be able to break the defensive structure of Damac club easily, and we have seen this against Al Shabab and Al Hilal this season.
Another negative point for Damac team, this is an essential point for any defensive style, but its importance doubles in the man’s marking system. Indeed, the team does not make many mistakes in this aspect, but there are small mistakes they make in some periods that make them face real danger.
For example, in this picture, a Rossi advances the ball forward, Atiah moved to mark Al-Shereid and left the ball holder space, this space was used by Rossi to continue his progress with the ball, and reached the final third.
In this picture, Harzzan refused to advance and attack the ball carrier, although his team-mate was behind him and could protect his back, but instead preferred to stay in place and cover the deep. This made the ball carrier able to play a pass deep into the empty space.
Indeed, players do not make this kind of mistakes often, but they do exist, and we can see these mistakes at any moment, and here Damac Club will be in real trouble.
As of writing these lines, Damac have conceded 11 goals, three of them were set-pieces. Means eight goals of organised attacks. Five goals from eight goals were through the gaps that we mentioned in this analysis, meaning 62.5% of the goals he conceded Damac were through these gaps.
The team is not bad, but it has to fix these gaps in order to be able to win and get out of the last place.
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