Monday, December 5, 2016

Palestine's Depth Chart (Midfield)

Imad Zatara (L) one of many fighting for a position in Palestine's midfield.
Heading into 2017, what does Palestine's core look like? AND how close are we to fielding a team that can not only qualify for UAE 2019 but do some serious damage?

The answers to these questions aren't clearer after the last set of friendlies. While it was nice to see two friendlies booked for the same window; certain circles will be lamenting the lack of rotation.

Fans have their opinions and so do we but in this article we'll look at how the staff rates the players in the pool.

Below is the definitive ranking of national team midfielders:



DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS 

1. Mohammed Darweesh 
9 caps, 25 years old
2. Pablo Tamburrini 
9 caps, 25 years old
3. Shadi Shaban 
2 caps, 24 years old
4. Mohammed Yameen 
2 caps, 24 years old
5. Oday Kharoub 
1 cap, 23 years old
6. Khader Yousef 
63 caps, 32 years old

Tamburrini has been a constant fixture of Barakat's sides.
Palestine completely overhauled this group after the 2015 Asian Cup and with good reason. The only bright spot from the middle of the pitch came when a half-fit Hesham Salhe nearly opened the scoring vs. Jordan with a thunderous strike. The rest of what Khader Yousef, Murad Ismail, and the aforementioned Salhe produced was largely unforgettable. The group was wanting defensively and had difficulty retaining possession and developing a sustained attack. Fast forward two years and the contingent is led by a completely different cast of characters.

The first name on this list should be no surprise. Mohammed Darweesh is the most positionally disciplined midfielder in the pool and he loves breaking up play and hovering in front of the backline. Yes he can be guilty of the rash tackle and has a penchant for collecting yellow cards but Palestine absolutely needs this type of player especially against stronger opponents. I bet Emirati players thought playing against Palestine would be a cakewalk and Darweesh's physicality set the tone for both encounters.

Palestine lack a passer in this group but the best of that bunch is Pablo Tamburrini. The Chilean born player can be depended on for tidiness in possession.

Palestine has sat deep against stronger opponents and have lacked the kind of midfielder who could switch play with accurate long range passing. This is something that has to be corrected and can be done so if Palestine pushes everything about 10-15 meters further up the pitch.

Palestino's forgotten man: Shadi Shaban
Shadi Shaban has a lot of support amongst followers of the WBPL and his loan move to CD Palestino is indicative of the Acre native's raw talent. His lack of play with the Chilean side is also indicative of his shortcomings. Shaban is a box-to-box midfielder but he has a habit of trying to do too much on his own. Thaqafi Tulkarem's Mohammed Yameen is much in the same mold and it remains to be seen whether Tamburrini's discipline will be sacrificed for something a little bit more dynamic.

Oday Kharoub has been a consistent WBPL performer and has put in some nice performances with the Olympic team. He's a more attacking option than the aforementioned names and doubts remain whether he can adapt to the speed of the international game.

Which brings us to Khader Yousef who is the second most capped outfield player in Palestine's history. His last cap came in March as a substitute against Timor Leste where he proceeded to pass almost exclusively to his cousin Ashraf Nu'man. At 32 and with Barakat's preference towards younger players it's difficult to see Khader Yousef in future squads let alone starting XIs.

ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS 

1. Jonathan Cantillana
8 caps, 24 years old
2. Tamer Seyam
18 caps, 24 years old
3. Sameh Mar'aba 
11 caps, 23 years old
4. Jaka Ihbeisheh 
11 caps, 30 years old
5. Islam Batran 
2 caps, 22 years old
6. Ahmad Awad 
2 caps, 23 years old
7. Imad Zatara
27 caps, 32 years old
8. Abdelhamid Abuhabib 
33 caps, 27 years old


Nose for goal: Jonathan has four goals in eight appearances for Palestine
A confusing pecking order. Jonathan Cantillana plies his trade in the Malaysian second division but a string of well timed goals with the national team have seen him become the go-to option in Palestine's midfield. A loan move to Ahli Al-Khalil last year further ensconced him in the side as he has developed a good understanding with left back Abdallah Jaber.

The option of who starts on the right flank has been more of a rotating door. Featuring Tamer Seyam, Sameh Mar'aba (especially as more established forwards have become available), and Jaka Ihbeisheh. The coaching staff has repeatedly favored WBPL players over their internationally based counterparts. It seems rather counter intuitive especially when the likes of Islam Batran have been fantastic in limited playing time.
Awad (c) in fine form for Dalkurd FF

Ahmad Awad will be bitterly disappointed to only get 10 minutes in the friendlies against Lebanon and Morocco B. The Dalkurd maestro led his club to the Swedish second tier last season and was more than up to the task in a side that nearly clinched back-to-back promotions.

Awad's six goals and two assists should afford him more of a chance to prove himself in the national team but as a central player he might not be at his most effective on the wings.

Imad Zatara's 12-month exclusion might not abate due to the player's age but he has achieved a good deal of success with Mesaimeer in the Qatar Gas League.

Abuhabib is once again leading the WBPL in scoring and he is unlike any player on the list. Abuhabib has things you cannot teach other footballers his vision allows him to pick spots for himself and set up his teammates. That said, Abuhabib is a paper tiger he has the ability to tear apart the weakest teams in Asia but his lack of fitness and physicality means he is ill-equipped to deal with established sides.

CONCLUSION 

Should Abdel Nasser Barakat continue with his favored 4-4-1-1 formation then expect to see the same two faces in the middle of the park. The partnership of Darweesh and Tamburrini is tried and tested and both players are young enough to be around for the next two Asian Cups. The challenge for the coaching staff is to find viable alternatives as Darweesh is sure to fall afoul of a yellow card or two along the way.

On form, Tamburrini is part of a Shabab Al-Khaleel side that is a whopping 11 points back of the current WBPL leaders. This might open the door for a player like Mohammed Yameen, who has been excellent for Thaqafi Tulkarem, to state his claim.

Thus far, however Shabab's players haven't felt the fallout of their club's rudderless season.

True Grit: Jaka Ihbeisheh
On the wings things are no clearer. Jonathan isn't really a winger per se and Jaka Ihbeisheh might see more and more time as a right back.

The go-to options over the last 18 months have been Seyam and Mar'aba. The latter's production- a sterling display against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur excepted- has been wanting centrally and out wide.

The reality of the situation is that Palestine only has two pure wingers in the pool- Imad Zatara and Jaka Ihbeisheh. Moreover, these are the only two players with enough experience and discipline to balance defensive and attacking duties.

The challenge in 2017 will be to further incorporate Islam Batran and Ahmed Awad in order to the national team. These two players are better decision makers on the ball and are receiving better coaching at Wadi Degla and Dalkurd FF, respectively. That said, the two players have no competitive starts between them and as central players their place might be further up the pitch in the 4-4-1-1 formation.