A midfield linchpin who provides defensive shelter to the backline and acts as a launch pad in attack build-up will be missing when Zamalek face bitter rivals Ahly in Tuesday’s anticipated Cairo derby, leaving them with little options in the middle.
Tarek Hamed, who arrived from Smouha in the summer of 2014, spent his first season with Zamalek mostly kicking his heels on the sidelines but once he got a chance to prove his worth, he grasped it with both hands.
The 26-year-old used to play second-fiddle to the defensive minded Ibrahim Salah in the heart of a three-man midfield but quickly won over the demanding fans with a series of solid displays off the bench in the second half of last season.
As Zamalek seek to defend the domestic double that they won last season, Hamed is an integral part of their plans after demonstrating that he is equally adept in defence and attack.
He almost single-handedly closes down spaces in midfield, leaving the opposition with limited space to operate maybe in the same way club great Tamer Abdel-Hamid used to do during a highly-successful spell for Zamalek in the early 2000s.
But he also has an advantage on Abdel-Hamid.
Hamed is a neat distributor of the ball who does not panic or dither under pressure. When he is surrounded by a couple of challengers for instance, he knows how to swivel and find a teammate without losing possession.
His consistent performances prompted Egypt’s national team to call him up and his absence through injury is a big blow to Zamalek, who are desperate to beat Ahly to bridge a four-point gap at the top of the Egyptian Premier League table.
Ibrahim Salah, who would have been a natural replacement, was sent out on loan to Hamed’s former club Smouha. There is hardly anyone who can fill Hamed’s boots.
Mido is most likely to deploy Ahmed Tawfik, a defensive-minded versatile player, as a holding midfielder. The question would now be whether Tawfik will be accompanied by one or two midfielders.
Nigerian Maarouf Yussuf and Ibrahim Abdel-Khalek are the other contenders to play alongside Tawfik.
Yussuf is best in holding up the ball but his interception skills are not that good while Abdel-Khalek has a good vision when sending long through balls.
Playing with a two-man midfield behind three attacking midfielders might be risky for Mido, under whom Zamalek became lethargic in moving the ball from their own half to the other end.
It will be even more complicated without the ever-reliable Hamed.
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