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Analysis: Sharjah use counter-attack to perfection in AFC Champions League win over Pakhtakor

Sharjah: The hosts extended their lead in Group B of the 2021 AFC Champions League thanks to standout performances by Caio and the Sharjah defence.

With a few highlight goals, effective synergy, and moments of magic, Sharjah strengthened their position in top spot thanks to positional discipline in a system that continues to work wonders for them. looks at the key factors from the game.

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Winning without possession

With just 30% possession and almost half as many shots as their opponents (9 to 17), Sharjah had to be near perfect with the few opportunities they created, and for the most part they were. Four of their five shots on target found the back of the net in a counter-attacking masterclass based largely on the solid foundations of the 4-4-2 formation. 

By focusing mainly on defending the mid-block, Sharjah allowed Pakhtakor plenty of time on the ball, but primarily on their terms. The UAE side forced the play out wide where Pakhtakor had to settle for low percentage crossing opportunities from difficult angles. The result was just five of 18 finding their mark from open play.

In the brief moments they had possession, their own Uzbek midfielder Otabek Shukurov led the way with 38 passes, keeping 35 of them short to ensure his side didn’t cheaply give up possession. Largely moving the ball out the wings to start the counter-attack, he connected with Caio more than anyone else and nearly had an assist in the early minutes of the match because of it.

Brazilian Luan Pereira also played a key role on both sides of the ball with 39% of Sharjah’s attack coming down his right sideline. The 21-year-old had the most successful tackles on the team with four, picked up an interception, and sealed the victory with his 62nd-minute strike from distance.

Silver linings for Pakhtakor

What looks a truly rough night for Pakhtakor doesn’t necessarily mean they need to change their entire approach. The loss did push them bottom of Group B, but both Air Force Club and Tractor FC ahead of them have yet to win in the group either, so a single win could be massive for the Uzbeks.

The man most likely to make that possible would be Dragan Ceran. The Serbian striker claimed his second goal of the tournament, reacting quickly to Adel Al Hosani’s rebounded save in the 21st minute to draw things level.

2021 AFC Champions League: Sharjah (UAE) 4-1 Pakhtakor (UZB)

While the Tashkent side ultimately fell short on the night, Ceran has emerged as a goal-scoring threat in an otherwise relatively low-scoring group. His 92% passing accuracy and winning 71% of his duels on the night also showed he’s capable of helping in the build-up play.

If the team can maintain the 88% passing accuracy they displayed on the 565 attempted passes against Sharjah in the reverse fixture in a few days' time, then they should be able to get more service to Ceran, which could lead to good results.

Decision-making key to Caio's big night

In order to effectively execute their counter-attacking game plan, Sharjah needed a focal point. A man to be the spear quickly and decisively cutting through the Pakhtakor defence, and time and again on Tuesday that was Caio.

Seemingly always in the right place at the right time, Caio was both an outlet for the midfielders, and a chance creator in and for himself. Maintaining an 82% passing accuracy throughout the match, the Brazilian used timing and positioning to create three clear-cut chances, including a goal and an assist.

His deft dance through the defenders for Sharjah’s second goal is well worthy of the highlight reels he’s on, but the decision-making was equally impressive. Instead of shooting from an angle he would later prove he’s capable of scoring from, he ensured the team took the lead by laying it off to the supporting Salem Saleh.

Caio would again wisely position himself in the second half by exploiting the space on the less-used left wing, bursting down the sideline and perfectly timing a low and powerful shot past Sanjar Kuvvatov. After such a stellar performance, he’s sure to be the centre of Pakhtakor’s attention in the return fixture on Friday, but as he has already showed, he’s more than happy to use that focus to create opportunities for his teammates.

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