Hearts of Oak have taken Ghana football by storm this season, launching a come-back to dominate the country’s top-flight football after 12 years. Coach Samuel Boadu has spent just 3 months in charge. He came closer to the title twice but was denied due to the cancellation of seasons on both occasions.
In 2018 with Medeama, his side was first on the league table after 14 games with 27 points. But the league was truncated, thanks to Anas’ “number 12” Expose. The next season, Medeama would come close again but the league was truncated due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
But this season, his new side (Hearts of Oak) has hit new heights. Samuel Boadu after joining the club on March 4, the Phobians have gone 12 leagues matches without a defeat, including wins over WAFA, Medeama, and, most recently against arch-rivals Asante Kotoko. This has propelled them into the GPL title race.
Samuel Boadu has struck a tactical balance that gets the best out of a settled and young talented squad using a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 flexible formation.
Their major improvement in the 2019/20 season has been their defense. The team currently boasts the best defensive record in the league since Boadu arrived with at the time of writing, 7 goals conceded in 16 games.
They are also the team with the most goal difference (23) in the league after 32 games, fixing what was previously a problem area that saw them end the last 2 uncompleted seasons in 9th and 12th positions.
Samuel Boadu’s Hearts have scored 21 times since he took over and have failed to score in just two games out of 16, which shows the team has improved in the attack.
In the second half of the season, Boadu has settled with a well-balanced back four. Goal Keeper Richard Attah lines up behind Mohammed Alhassan, Addo Sowah, Raddy Ovuka, and Fatawu Mohammed
Alhassan offers speed and, athleticism and also good on the ball, providing valuable experience and positioning. Addo Sowah is the star performer, an outstanding center-back who marshals the defense and combines physicality intelligence, and techniques.
Boadu demands great sacrifice from his tireless fullbacks, Raddy Ovuka and Fatawu Mohammed who pushes up to support the attack at every opportunity to send crosses into the penalty box. Protection is provided by Benjamin Afutu, the experienced midfielder shields the back four while Patrick Razak’s defensive duties this season have increased too.
Hearts of Oak like to deploy a high press, and the work of rate their forwards Daniel Barnieh, Patrick Pazak, and Obeng Jnr pressurizes the opposition and forces errors. But the team’s talented and dangerous players, lie in their midfield and attack, and they are second to none for goals scored(44) in the GPL this season at the time of writing. Kwadwo Obeng Jnr who heads the forward line has been directly involved in 7goals in 12 games under Boadu. (6 goals, I assist). Playmaker Ibrahim Salifu has made 7 assists.
The Phobians like to play out from the back through their ball-playing defenders, invite pressure from the opposition, and looking to play through the press with quick and incisive passing; and Salifu is the pivot of Hearts of Oak’s attacking play.
The 21yr old played as a winger for Eleven Wonders in the first of the season but has been moved to the no 10 role where he has more space and time to dictate play. He will drop deep and move the ball out or look for passes between the lines and the opposition’s defense and midfield.
His passing range is his biggest weapon, whether it with quick, short exchanges, through balls to feed the willing runs of P. Razak and A. Barnieh or a long pass to the towering figure of Obeng Jnr.
Obeng Jnr’s all-around abilities and flair make him an important player in the final third. The 22 yr old can shoot from a distance and close control needed to create a quick passing combination.
However, his 5ft 10inch frame makes him a target man and he will often position himself in line with the strikers giving R. Attah and the defense an option of going direct when under pressure. It’s an option the Phobians use frequently as Obeng Jnr’s areal ability means he can win flick-ons for the attackers to chase or hold the ball to create an attacking platform, turning defense into attack in instant.
Hearts of Oak’s constant movement in the opposition’s area unsettles the opposition. P. Razak will be inverted to the box, while Bocthway and Afutu will take every opportunity to get between the lines as the fullbacks push up and look to put in crosses.
The team commits large numbers to attacks and looks to crowd the box with 3 or 4 players for crosses. The number of bodies they commit forward and their willingness to get the ball into dangerous areas quickly has helped them win a league-high 9 penalties this season of which 4 have been dispatched by Victor Addo. Four have also been missed.
Obeng Jnr is in excellent form, with at the time of writing, 10 league goals after 24 rounds. His goals have won 13 points for the Phobian’s this season. Obeng Jnr’s incessant movement makes him a nightmare to mark, as he constantly combines running into the channels, deep of playing on the last defender’s shoulder, and his finishing has been deadly.
Samuel Boadu’s Hearts of Oak are also good at scoring from set-pieces. The quality delivery of Salifu and the area ability delivery of Ansah Bocthway, Afutu, Alhassan gives them an advantage in corners especially. it’s a team that is set to finally end their 112-year wait for the Ghana Premier League title and perhaps wins something even greater.