Nigeria play a back to back two-legged tie against Sierra Leone and have all 23 invited players already in the Benin camp as they gear up for the first leg which kick offs by 17:00 WAT on Friday. The Super Eagles will all but guarantee their qualification for next year’s Africa Cup Of Nations Championships if they come out of both fixtures with maximum points as they are currently 2/2 in Group L, three points more than second placed Benin Republic.
We have setup the best eleven players according to performance this season only that should assemble against the Leone stars. Utilising the modern 4-1-2-3 formation, these are the most suitable candidates for starting places.
Daniel Akpeyi vs Francis Uzoho vs Maduka Okoye vs Sebastian Osigwe
At 1.97m, Maduka is the tallest goalkeeper available for Nigeria, just 1cm taller than Francis Uzoho. He is also the youngest at 21 years and recently made a summer move to Dutch side, Sparta Rotterdam.
But youth is not enough criteria for game time as Maduka has made just two league appearances, both starts, in his senior career, with both coming in the last two weeks and on paper shouldn’t be starting for the Eagles ahead of new invitee Sebastian Osigwe who has made two more apps with four starts, while Uzoho on the other hand has made no appearance for his club, Apoel Nicosia and Daniel Akpeyi has featured just twice in the lowest ranked league of all four. This leaves only Osigwe and Maduka as realistic contenders for the number one spot.
Although there isn’t a wide gap between the four apps of Osigwe and the two of Maduka, as the season is still young, Maduka Okoye slightly edges 26-year-old Sebastian in the number of saves made per game. But Osigwe saves 70% of the shots he faces, compared to Maduka’s 60%. Osigwe has also conceded less goals per game than Maduka; but the latter has kept 1 clean sheet in his 2 games compared to Osigwe’s 0 in 4.
Maduka’s biggest call to fame is the quality of the league he plays in. The Dutch Eredivisie is ranked 10th in Europe by UEFA, seven places higher than the Swiss Super League. Although, Osigwe’s club, Lugano is almost a hundred places above Maduka’s in the rankings, the placement of the league as a whole tips the balance in the 21-year-old’s favour.
Best Performer: Maduka Okoye
Ola Aina vs Tyronne Ebuehi
Moving from Italian side, Torino, to Premier League newcomers, Fulham, was a very shrewd move from Ola Aina, it was a huge leap from the fourth best league in Europe to the best league in the world for 2019/20. He has adapted like duck to water, starting his side’s last five league games and helping them to their first league win in almost two years, a game in which he scored an early goal of the season contender.
His closest contender is Tyronne Ebuehi who recently made a return from a series of injury and now appear to be getting back to the form that saw Portuguese giants, Benfica, sign him from Ado Den Haag in 2018. These injury setbacks caused the player to miss his first season with a rupture ligament and half of the next season. He was loaned this season back to the Eredivisie, this time to Twente and has not looked backed since then. He was included in the Eredivisie Team Of The Month for October after getting an assist and helping Twente to 5th, just two points from Europa League places.
Ebuehi has kept two league clean sheets compared to Ola Aina’s one, but Ola Aina has performed a little better all-round than Ebuehi this year. He makes more tackles, interceptions and clearances than Ebuehi, but Ebuehi has is just 4 percent more successful in overall duels than Aina.
Aina makes more accurate crosses per game than Ebuehi, but Ebuehi has a higher success rate. Aina is a better dribbler than Ebuehi by far but Ebuehi is almost impossible to dribble past, as he has been dribbled past four times less than Aina.
Both players have no significant advantage over the other and that brings it down to the quality of the league. The English Premier League is eight places better than the Dutch Eredivisie which gives Ola Aina exposure to more quality opponents.
Best Performer: Ola Aina
Chidozie Awaziem vs Kenneth Omeruo vs Kevin Akpoguma vs Leon Balogun vs Semi Ajayi vs William Troost-Ekong
Super Eagles vice captain, Troost-Ekong and Leganes defender, Kenneth Omeruo, don’t play in the top tier of any league making them ineligible in terms of quality of league.
That leaves the tussle for starting places between West Brom defender, Semi Ajayi, Leon Balogun of Rangers, Chidozie Awaziem of Boavista and Kevin Akpoguma of Hoffenheim. Excluding centre-backs not in topflight leagues, Leon Balogun plays in the lowest ranked league, the Scottish Premiership which is ranked 14th by UEFA, while Semi Ajayi plays in the 2nd best league in the world, the English Premier League.
Balogun outperforms every other Nigerian defender in goals conceded as he has conceded only 1 goal in 7 games keeping 6 clean sheets although 2 of those shutouts were as a substitute, while Kevin concedes 1.57 goals per game in 7 games with at least a goal conceded in every game this campaign. Ajayi on the other hand has conceded the most goal this season, an average of 2.43 per game with no clean sheet while Awaziem, the youngest of the four, has kept one clean sheet and concedes at the third lowest rate of 1.67 per game.
Kevin is the best player when it comes to one on one duels as he as won almost two times more than any other defender, followed by Chidozie Awaziem. Awaziem also makes the most interceptions but is also the most dribbled past out of the four with Kevin and Balogun tied for defenders hard to dribble past. Both players are also tied for percentage of their total duels won with Awaziem having the lowest success.
For aerial ability, Leon Balogun takes to the air like an eagle as he wins the highest number of aerial duels per game with also the highest success rate, followed closely by the second tallest player in the squad, Ajayi while Kevin is surprisingly the worst of the four.
Balogun looks very good on paper but would have found it hard to break into the squad due to the low quality of the Scottish League, but the 32-year-old plays in one of the highest competition in European football, the Europa League, where he has not conceded a single goal in every game played. Kevin also plays in the Europa, keeping two clean sheets in three games and also top ten for tackles made among defenders.
Best Performer: Leon Balgun, Kevin Akpoguma
Jamilu Collins vs Zaidu Sanusi
Playing in the second division of Germany does a lot of disservice to Jamilu as his competition, Zaidu, not only plays for the 16th best team in the world (the highest ranked team of any Super Eagles player), but has also started 100 percent of their games in Europe’s most elite competition, the UEFA Champions League, having moved just over one month ago.
Zaidu has kept two clean sheets in three champions league games, making more clearances than any fullback in the competition. In the Portuguese league, only 8 defenders deliver more accurate crosses per game than the 23-year-old.
Best Performer: Zaidu Sanusi
Oghenekaro Etebo vs Frank Onyeka
Etebo plays in Turkey which is just two places above Onyeka’s Denmark, leaving both players delicately poised for a spot in the first eleven. Both players being combative will be vying for the holding or defensive midfield position in the absence of the inevitable Wilfried Ndidi.
With both leagues being very similar in quality, Onyeka has a massive advantage over Etebo since his team plays in the highest competition in club football, the UEFA Champions League. But both have similar fortunes in the league with each starting 3 league games, though Etebo has made more substitute appearances with 3 from the bench compared to Onyeka’s 1.
They are not so close in defensive contributions with Onyeka making over two times more tackles, more interceptions, more ball recoveries, more clearances, and is dribbled past less than Etebo. Onyeka appears the more reckless on paper, as he has made more fouls but he has been booked just once compared to Etebo who has been booked thrice, including a red card.
In the attacking phase, Etebo seems slightly better, creating more chances and successful in every dribbles attempted, but Onyeka obviously controls play better, making more accurate passes and switches play better with 100 percent of his long balls finding its target. Onyeka was the best midfielder in his club’s UCL game against Liverpool, outperforming all of Liverpool’s midfielders.
Best Performer: Frank Onyeka
Joe Aribo is the only player invited whose natural role this season is the attacking midfield position. With four league goals already, Aribo has already bettered last season’s tally of three goals in 20 less appearances. Aribo also enjoys exposure of playing in the Europa league with Rangers, the highest competition he has featured in his career. He missed the last National window due to an injury upset and will a be a very welcome re-addition to an injury-ravaged squad.
A shadow striker is a position very similar to a trequartista with the attacker required to both score and create chances for the team. The player plays a little deeper than the striker but a little further than the attacking midfielder. And that is the role where Leicester forward, Iheanacho, has been utilised this season, yielding amazing results.
He has scored 3 goals and assisted a further 3 in 7 games in all competitons but all goal contribution have come in two games in the Europa League. No player has a higher goal inolvement per game ratio than him in the competition. He is currently the most in-form player in Nigeria and is valued at 15 million euros by Transfermarkt, the highest value he has ever reached. He is averaging almost 30 touches per game which is way higher than a regular striker and his heat map shows that majority of his touches were made outside the opponents penalty box.
Ahmed Musa vs Alex Iwobi vs Chidera Ejuke
Super Eagles captain, Ahmed Musa, used to play in Saudi Arabia but is currently without a club and has played just 111 minutes of football, making him ineligible for comparisons. That leaves Iwobi and Ejuke in contention for the left-wing spot. Although Iwobi has featured more in the 1o position than on the wings for the Super Eagles, all of his seven appearances this season for Everton have come as a winger.
Ejuke averages more shots per game than Iwobi who has shockingly attempted zero shots this season. Iwobi’s dribbling attempts is at an all time low, and so also is his accuracy while Ejuke is in his elements in that attribute, completing more dribbles than any player in the Europa league.
Iwobi has started just one game this season and is the most subbed in Everton player, while Ejuke has been subbed out in every game he has started this season for CSKA. Ejuke has missed two big chances scoring two goals while Iwobi has created one big chance, providing one assist.
Both players are not having the best start to the season but Iwobi playing in a far more competitive league as well as having the second highest expected assists in the league hands him the advantage
Best Performer: Alex Iwobi
Emmanuel Dennis vs Samuel Chukwueze
22-year-old Dennis who plays for Club Brugge got his first goal of the season last month in the Champions League game against Zenit but has failed to impress away from that, managing two assists in 10 games. His competition, 21 year-old Samuel Chukwueze, has not fared any more better, scoring his first goal last week, with a similar two assists in 10 games. Chukwueze also plays in Europe but in the lesser Europa League.
Dennis completes more dribbles and takes more shot than Chukwueze with almost 50 percent of his shot hitting the target compared to Chukwueze’s 14%. Chukwueze has created two more chances than Dennis this season.
Against European opposition, the tides change, with Chukwueze ahead of his compatriot in every aspect except shot taken, which brings selection down to status of club. Since Chukwueze plays in a better league but less European competition while Dennis plays in a better European competition but less league, the ranking of the club will show how difficult it is to break into their starting eleven.
Villareal are currently ranked 36 in Europe while Club Brugge occupy the 43rd position, this puts Chukwueze in a better stand statistically.
Best Performer: Samuel Chukwueze
Paul Onuachu vs Victor Osimhen
Paul Onuachu of Genk received a late call-up to replace the injured Moses Simon, but the only reason the 2.0m giant did not make it into the initial first squad was a failure to impress in his previous national outing.
No Nigerian player has scored more goals than Onuachu’s 9 which also see him top the goalscorers’ chart in the Belgian Jupiler league, but he will have to contest a place with AFCON Qualifiers current top goalscorer, Victor Osimhen.
On paper, Onuachu seems the apparent winner compared to Osimhen’s 2 goals, but 3 of his goals have come via the penalty spot which will place him at just 6 non-penalty goals. Each player has one assist apiece which rounds up to 3 direct non-penalty goal involvement for Osimhen and 7 for Onuachu.
Goal contribution per minute ratio reveals that Osimhen is involved in 0.58 goals per 90 compared to Onuachu’s 0.76. Onuachu being a significant 16cm taller than Osimhen sees him win 0.5 more aerial duels per game, but both players are in the top 10 for aerial ability in their respective leagues.
In Europe’s big five, Only Ibrahimovic, Lewandowski, Kane and Mbappe take more shots per game than Osimhen this season, which is almost two times more than Onuachu. Osimhen also creates two times more chances for his teammates than Onuachu and he is flagged offside less than Onuachu.
Osimhen completes more dribbles per game than the tallest Nigerian player, yet Onuachu loses the ball over two times more than the Napoli man. The quality of league, better statistics and added exposure of paying in Europe pitches only one winner here.
Best Performer: Victor Osimhen