As previously touched upon, Singapore’s talent pool is split into two pretty extreme categories – the high-performance, premier players and the inconsistent bunch who can’t seem to fulfil their potential. How can Sundram bring these players together and actually make a worthy enough impact in the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup? How can Sundram prove he is the man to take Singapore forward?
Go for a 4-1-4-1
Based on the players Sundram is trying to build a team around – the likes of Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin – he simply needs to ditch the 4-4-1-1 and go for a 4-1-4-1.
Safuwan isn’t the most ineffective as a No.10, and it seems he will do better playing alongside Hariss in a midfield two, with a holding midfielder – likely Izzdin Shahfiq – providing a defensive base for both stars to bomb forward in support of Khairul Amri. With Amri’s tendency to drop deep at times, instead of one late runner (Hariss) and one static No.10 (Safuwan) marshalled by an opposition defender, having two late runners will provide more unpredictability and hopefully chaos for the opposition defence, as they would have little time to decide which late runner to mark.
Admittedly, the likes of Thailand – once equals with Singapore but now the best team in ASEAN – with diminutive playmakers like Charyl Chappuis and finisher supreme Teerasil Dangda, will dominate possession against a more limited Singapore side. Sundram would have to consider bringing in the more solid Hafiz Sujad at left midfield with a offensive winger on the other side, instead of two flyers like Faris Ramli and Gabriel Quek.
With up to six positions up for grabs, Sundram will need to decide early on and find stability in the team and unit he will bring into the Suzuki Cup. What they lack in individual talent – beyond the 4-5 guaranteed starters – Singapore will need to have the greatest team spirit and chemistry among all the other nations if they are to make an impact in the tournament. Basically, think Leicester City of 2015/16.
Prioritise the defence
Sundram needs to really drill it into his team on the defensive side of the game. Everyone needs to shuffle across the field as one whole defensive unit. Everyone needs to know everyone else’s positions and responsibilities. Everyone also needs to know instinctively where’s the next pass.
This can only be done on the training ground and with a stable unit. If Sundram finds a way to make his team hard to beat, he would have won half the battle already. This would allow the team to grow into the game, especially against tougher opposition, and perhaps knick a winner at the end.
And how could they possible knick a winner? Through set-pieces. On the offensive side of set-pieces, Singapore needs to use the height advantage they have over the likes of Thailand – with Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan, Hariss, Amri, even Dan Bennett or Madhu Mohana). Attacking set-pieces are actually one area Singapore might have an advantage over all their ASEAN rivals. With Madhu’s long throw prowess and Shaiful Esah’s brilliant left foot, they could mimic the successes enjoyed by Stoke City under Tony Pulis with long-throw specialist Rory Delap.
For defending set-pieces, the height advantage should be maximised too, but this can only happen when everyone knows their jobs and who they are marking. One lapse is all that’s needed for the opposition to eliminate Singapore’s height advantage even with a simple set-piece routine.
Set-pieces are a great equaliser of teams’ talent or skill levels. Mastering set-pieces, like defending as a unit, can be done on the training ground with constant drills and practice. Doing so will only help Singapore knick a few goals and be more defensively sound.
Simplify the attacking football
Should Singapore master the above two areas, Sundram can then de-prioritise the attacking side of their game. Former national coach Raddy Avramovic enjoyed much success with the long ball, using Aleksander Duric as the main focal point of this attacking strategy.
Most recently, German Bernd Stange had a grandeur vision for Singapore football, playing a European-style passing game in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation. He eventually found out how limited the players were and ultimately unable to execute this vision – a main reason why he was eventually relieved of his duties.
With the height advantage of Safuwan and Amri, Sundram needs to go back to Raddy’s blueprint – at least until Singapore starts producing proper ball players who can retain possession under pressure. Using the long ball will help simplify the defenders’ jobs, as they are instructed to simply hoof the ball forward instead of trying to play their way out of defence and likely into trouble instead.
Perhaps the only time Singapore should attempt some intricate, neat football is once the ball is knocked down by Amri or Safuwan in the opposition’s final third, or just ahead of their box. Playing the ball out to the wings as often as possible will also help increase the number of crosses into the box, and thus increase the probability of late runners Hariss and Safuwan getting on the end of these crosses.
With just two basic attacking plans backed up by a strong defence and mastery of set-pieces, Sundram’s team could play beyond their level and cause the likes of Thailand and Vietnam more problems. He will have to make the best of Singapore’s current shortcomings by making sure his small handful of truly talented individuals can make a difference – without having to worry about their fellow, more limited team-mates.
Only then will Sundram win over the doubters in the Football Association of Singapore, and perhaps spring a surprise or two at the upcoming Suzuki Cup.