The possible deployment of captain Knowledge Musona as an out-and-out striker against the Democratic Republic of Congo could further enhance Zimbabwe’s potency upfront in Saturday’s crunch Africa Cup of Nations qualifier away.
The Warriors skipper has almost always played in wide areas in national colours, but with a succession of injuries having decimated virtually all of coach Sunday Chidzambwa’s centre-forward options, Musona now appears the only credible alternative available for the role.
Indeed, speaking to the Herald, Chidzambwa confirmed that he’s considering utilising Musona as his leading man.
Zimbabwe are currently tied on four points with the DRC atop Group G, with the Warriors enjoying a superior goal difference.
The Southern Africans will be hoping to hold their own against the Leopards away in Kinshasa and then take the advantage in front of their own fans in the return leg in Harare three days later.
It will not have helped though that Chidzambwa has been denied the services of his three top strikers, as Evans Rusike recently joined Tino Kadewere and Nyasha Mushekwi on the sidelines after injuring his ankle while turning out for South African Premiership side SuperSport United.
Musona playing as the spearhead of the attack would not be an entirely retrogressive move, with the 28-year-old having often filled that role with distinction at former club KV Oostende.
Admittedly, the captain has always thrived in a wide midfield birth for Zimbabwe, a position which gives him the leeway to pop up all over the pitch and confound defences. Despite this, Musona is by far Zimbabwe’s most lethal forward with 20 goals in 30 appearances, and might relish a more central berth.
While the centre-forward role might constrain the Anderlecht man’s mobility, the bigger picture is that the switch could improve the overall fluidity of Zimbabwe’s forward line, making the team particularly potent on the counter.
There is palpable chemistry between Musona and Khama Billiat, with their interplay having resulted in some crucial goals in recent years. However, it has often proved difficult for the Aces Youth Academy products to combine while stationed on opposite flanks.
Moving Musona to the centre would bring him closer to Billiat, and the duo’s mutual understanding could prove vital to Zimbabwe’s chances of breaching the DRC lines.
A lot still will hinge on the identity and form of the man who will operate on the other flank, not to mention how Chidzambwa will re-arrange the pieces in central midfield following the return from injury of Club Brugge star Marvelous Nakamba.
While the Leopards are expected to dominate the possession stakes, Zimbabwe must help themselves by avoiding the kind of needless losing of the ball which held them back in the 1-1 draw against Congo-Brazzaville last month.
Chidzambwa can take that into consideration when deciding who plays alongside Musona and Billiat upfront between the returning Ovidy Karuru and slippery winger Talent Chawapiwa.
The Zimbabwe mentor appears to have a high regard for the more experienced Karuru, but new boy Chawapiwa who appears to possess better ball-retention skills. The Baroka man also has the quality to stretch the DRC defence on the wing and open up space for Musona and Billiat.
Should the Warriors use a 4-3-3 formation, Nakamba would take his place on the left of anchorman Danny Phiri, with Orlando Pirates’ Marshall Munetsi or Tanzania-based Tafadzwa Kutinyu on the right.
Munetsi has been frozen out of the Pirates team since his return from the Congo-Brazzaville match a month ago, but he offers better defensive cover, something Chidzambwa, ever the cautious schemer, might find more appealing.
A variation of the 4-2-3-1 formation used in Brazzaville could however present problems, especially given that Chidzambwa would likely leave the Phiri-Munetsi partnership intact in midfield.
That would necessitate a role further up the pitch for Nakamba, despite the fact he prefers to operate deeper, where his battling qualities and sharp brain enable him to win back possession and drive the team forward.
The Bantu Rovers product hasn’t quite thrived when asked to play with his back to goal.
It will also be interesting to assess the kind of impact new addition Tendai Darikwa will make both in defence and in an attacking sense.
In the end though, the entire backline will have to stand firm against the DRC’s fearsome forward line if Zimbabwe are to emerge with their reputation intact from the battle of Kinshasa.