Egypt coach Hector Cuper has on many occasions highlighted the key role Abdallah El-Said plays in his team. He might be puzzled now as to what do after the influential playmaker was ruled out of Sunday's crucial World Cup qualifier at home to Congo because of injury.
“Abdallah El-Said is one of the most important players for our team. He gives us a lot of solutions and can play in several positions and this makes him an ideal choice, not just for me but also for any other coach,” the Argentinean boss previously said.
The 32-year-old sustained a hamstring injury during Ahly's clash against Etoile du Sahel in the African Champions League semi-final first leg last Sunday.
Since his arrival in 2015, Cuper has been relying on El-Said in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
He plays as a classic number 10, a playmaker behind a lone striker, but he is also able to drop deep to join a triumvirate midfield or occupy any flank, depending on the tactical choices.
The numbers speak for themselves: El-Said has made 21 appearances under Cuper, one short of Premier League-based duo Mohamed Elneny and Ahmed Hegazi. He scored six goals, provided five assists and proved to be a brilliant aide to Egypt’s top scorer Mohamed Salah.
It’s true that El-Said has not been at his best recently due to fatigue that resulted from playing for a third straight season - including an African Cup of Nations appearance at the beginning of the year - without a proper break.
However, the absence of such a peripheral figure will not go unnoticed.
“I am considering using Saleh Gomaa as a replacement for El-Said. He is a good option and I always had confidence in him, just like all the players in my team. Everybody has the chance to play according to how the match goes,” Cuper told a presser on Monday.
Gomaa, 24, has emerged as a legitimate successor for the aging El-Said either at Ahly or the Egyptian national team.
A skillful dribbler and exquisite passer, the 2013 African U-20 Championship Player of the tournament has overcome a difficult year at Ahly to impose himself as a rising star in Egyptian football.
Gomaa, who is often blamed for his lack of tactical discipline, may fit in Cuper’s formation if the boss sticks to his usual game plan, especially in a match where he will need creativity upfront to break down the Congolese defence.
But the 61-year experienced coach may revert to other tactical solutions to compensate the absence of El-Said.
He has previously used a 4-4-1-1 scheme, moving Liverpool winger Salah inside behind a lone striker such as Ahmed “Kouka” Hassan and deploying Ramadan Sobhi and Mahmoud “Trezeguet” Hassan on the flanks.
Cuper may also switch to a classic 4-4-2 formation with Kouka partnering Mahmoud “Kahraba” Abdel-Moneim upfront to put more pressure on their opponents' defence and help Salah create more spaces on the right wing.
The main aim is to feed the attacker, given that central midfielders Tarek Hamed and Mohamed Elneny have shown a lack of creativity in the final third.
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