Mehmed Bazdarevic is off to a respectable start as the new Bosnian coach. He’s only been in charge for two matches and although a victory against minnows Andorra and a draw against Austria are hardly incredible results, one does get the feeling Bosnia is back on the right path.
Bazdarevic has already shown a lot of passion for his team, which is extremely refreshing when you consider that his predecessor had a habit of impersonating a wax sculpture on the sideline. Where as Susic appeared to be under heavy sedation at all times, Bazdarevic behaves as if he has a coke habit he indulges in just before kick-off. I mean that in the best way possible.
He has also shown us another crucial quality that Susic was missing: the ability to recognize what isn’t working and to make the necessary changes. Those who don’t adapt, tend to die. So while I’m still not completely sold on him, Bazdarevic appears to be headed in the right direction. However, there are a few vital issues that still must be solved if we are to have any realistic chance of qualifying for the tournament in France.
FIND THE RIGHT SYSTEM
There are no more friendlies for Bazdarevic to tinker and experiment. Our next game is the must win qualifying match against Israel. The 4-4-2 that Susic loved to play has backfired more than once and is no longer a good option in must win games against decent opponents. This is especially true now that Dzeko’s strike partner Ibisevic is in the worst form of his life.
Most of Bosnia’s best results and performances were achieved while playing in the more stable 4-2-3-1 and had we stuck with this formation in the World Cup we almost certainly would have made it out of the group stage. With no time left for further experimentation, Bazdarevic’s best option for now is to stick with the system that works.
GET THE BEST OUT OF PJANIC
Pjanic is our most gifted and creative player and one of the best central midfielders in Europe but he has consistently struggled for the national team, never quite matching his impressive club performances. We have repeatedly tried to shove him in the attacking midfield role behind Dzeko, in the hope tha he could fill the void left by the recently retired Misimovic but it has never worked. Pjanic is not an Oscar or Juan Mata; he is more of a Xavi or Pirlo and does his best work dictating the game from deeper positions. He is the brain. This is how he is used in Roma and this is how he should be used in the national team.
It would be tempting to try to copy the 4-3-3 used by Roma as this system seems tailor-made for Pjanic but as stated above, we just don’t have the time to experiment. Assuming Bazdarevic sticks with the 4-2-3-1 formation, Pjanic will be most at home next to Besic as he was against Argentina in the World Cup.
THE MISIMOVIC ROLE
Misimovic was a world class playmaker who had an incredible connection with Dzeko and this partnership resulted in heaps of goals both for Wolfsburg and Bosnia. This is not easy to replace. We’ve already seen that Pjanic is far more effective in a deeper role, which means Bazdarevic will have to decide which of our other midfielders is most suited to play behind the striker.
Sejad Salihovic of Hoffenheim possesses good vision, passing range, long distance shooting ability and is one of the best set piece specialists in the world but the 30 year old has picked up injury after injury and is not quite the player he used to be. Still, he is one of the most experienced players in the squad and should be one of the top options. Deportivo la Coruna’s Haris Medunjanin is a similar case. Experienced, silky smooth passer with good vision, but it would be fair to say he’s not the most energetic or quick player. Then again, neither was Misimovic.
Some are hopeful that newcomer Mario Vrancic of Paderborn may be the answer and while there is no doubt that he deserves a spot in the squad, like Pjanic his primary position is central midfield not attacking. From what I have seen he would probably be more at home in a midfield three (4-3-3) with Besic and Pjanic than he would as a CAM. That is just my initial impression and he should definitely be given a chance in the next friendly.
The other candidates are Semir Stilic, Sanjin Prcic, and Tino-Sven Susic. It’s hard to have much faith in Stilic as he has only now returned to the national team and still plays in the Polish league. Some will argue that he is too good for Poland and could easily move to a higher level competition, but the fact is that he has not done that yet. In my opinion he is too unproven to be a starter but should be given a chance to change that off the bench. The same applies to Sanjin Prcic of Stade Rennais and Tino Susic of Hajduk Split; young midfielders with plenty of potential but right now they should be looking to make their impact as substitutes.
What is our best centre back pairing? I honestly don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. The matches against Andorra and Austria did nothing to clear this up. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen) is irreplacable, so that decision is easy. Picking his partner, however, is not. Bazdarevic has Ermin Bicakcic (Hoffenheim), Ognjen Vranjes (Gaziantepspor), Toni Sunjic (Kuban Krasnodar), Ervin Zukanovic (Chievo Verona), and Edin Cocalic (Mechelen) to choose from but it is not an easy decision as none of the defenders clearly stands out head and shoulders above the rest yet.
Zukanovic is currently playing well as left-back for both club and country but the return of Schalke’s Sead Kolasinac will complicate things as the powerful fan favorite will almost certainly start again as soon as he is fully fit. One of them will have to be benched or moved to CB, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would bench Kolasinac (Susic did so against Nigeria at the World Cup with disastrous results).
The truth is that less talented teams have been playing much better football than we have in these qualifications. We are constantly underperforming. We have 5 points out of a possible 15. Iceland has 12, Albania has 7. In order to qualify, Bazdarevic will have to get the absolute best out of our squad and to do that solutions for the problems listed above must be found.