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Should Jordan Ayew start against Nigeria in Abuja?

Once upon a time in 2017 at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon, Jordan Ayew, who was at Aston Villa, received a pass from teammate Christian Atsu and showed a great piece of skill and composure to beat two DR. Congo defenders before calmly slotting the ball into the net. His goal put the Black Stars ahead in the quarterfinal contest but the goal meant more – the striker had his eyes welled up with tears as he run to celebrate.

Three years ago, he was regarded as one of the best players for Ghana on the continental stage in Egypt by dispatching two fine finishes against Benin and Guinea-Bissau. The quick turn to set himself up for the first and a couple of breezy stepovers to go past his marker for the second were just exquisite. Those were some memorable moments of Black Stars forward Jordan Ayew in the past.

Should Jordan Ayew start against Nigeria in Abuja?

Jordan has been consistent in the Black Stars setup since making his debut 12 years ago. The pressure on the Crystal Palace forward grew in leaps and bounds after Asamoah Gyan was ousted from the Black Stars; the 30-year-old has become the go-to man for the four-time AFCON champions irrespective of which coach is in charge. This suggests something special about Abedi Pele’s son. He has often been praised for his technical ability, tactical discipline, and immense work rate – which was rightly evident in the first leg against Nigeria at the Baba Yara Stadium where he, on most occasions, helped left-back Gideon Mensah to stifle Samuel Chukwueze and Ola Aina.

“I know in Africa that people acknowledge more offensive action but if you see what Jordan did defensively, this has much worth,” said Black Stars coach Otto Addo, thus, reiterating how pivotal the ex-Swansea forward is to the squad but Ghanaians did not see it that way as most jeered up when he got substituted.

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Revolutionary Jordan Ayew

Ayew is gradually and seemingly accepting his new role as a forward. In 2020, he became the highest goalscorer for Crystal Palace with 9 goals in the Premier League and won the Crystal Palace Player of the season and Goal of the season awards. Since then, the Marseille-born footballer has netted twice – albeit he was/is predominantly used on the wings.

The constant reasoning of him being a striker and therefore should bag in goals every game should be a thing of the past. It took him 351 minutes to find the net in his first year at Selhurst Park. Two down the line and the versatile player is now taking 1,575 minutes to score a goal – a significant decline in his attacking returns.

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As his attacking output has reduced, his defensive contributions have massively improved. The 30-year-old has made 119 recoveries, won 28 tackles, made 20 interceptions, and applied 112 successful pressures.

Should Jordan Ayew start against Nigeria in Abuja?
Jordan Ayew heatmap vs Nigeria in the first leg

Who is available to pick up the mantle?

Out of the eight forwards invited for the Ghana-Nigeria clash, Joseph Paintsil of Genk is the only player who has been tried and tested, primed, and ready for the left-wing spot over Jordan. The 24-year-old has featured twice in that role in his four matches for Ghana which has been impressive.

His ability to go past players with sheer pace and determination is an attribute many would want to see. The downside is Paintsil’s tendency to attack might leave Mensah exposed in transitions. At club level, he has 0.1 interceptions per game, 0.3 tackles per game which will be a big gamble as Ghana needs a winger who will support the left-back to limit Nigeria’s threat from the right-wing.

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Should Jordan Ayew start against Nigeria in Abuja?

Osman Bukari of FC Nantes has shown promise and caused havoc when he was introduced in the first leg against Nigeria. However, the 23-year-old prefers to play from the right-wing leaving the only option as Christopher Antwi-Adjei, a player who has only one substitute appearance for the Black Stars.

Whether vouching for a starting spot for Jordan Ayew or otherwise, the sole decision lies in the hands of coach Otto Addo who has spoken in glowing terms about the player. But what is certainly clear is his willingness to defend as well as take players on to create chances for the team although the majority are not interested in that but vilify him for his inability to find the back of the net.

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Source: Haruna Mubarak

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