Kim Grant has been shuffling between with the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-2 formation with a lot of improvisation in player roles and player profiles upfront.
Initially, Kojo Obeng Junior, who is a center forward and Mohammed Fatawu, a left back, were deployed on the flanks while Joseph Esso operated in hole behind Kofi Kordzie.
This stifled creativity in the central areas and wide areas. Hearts experienced some structural defects in their buildup with the 4-4-2 formation and this was telling on their results.
Grant eventually in correcting the problems settled with a 4-2-3-1.
1. Build-Up structure
Grant deploys a system of playing from the back called La Salida Lavolpiana. Here, one midfielder drops to create a numerical advantage at the back as the centre backs split with fullbacks pushing high up the pitch.
Mohammed Alhassan and Robert Addo would split as Aminu drops in between to create more passing lanes and numerical superiority.
2. Initial struggle
With the 4-4-2, anytime Aminu/Kodie dropped into a center back position Hearts had only one midfielder left ready to receive in the second phase of the buildup as the two center forwards were very high up the pitch.
Afutu was usually outnumbered and confused as to which position to pick up the left half space or the right half space.
This meant that anytime there was a pass to centerbacks there was absolutely no vertical passing lane/option in between the lines except to find the two center forwards with a long ball.
In this regard, the structure in the first phase was spot on but the second phase was non-existent.
3. The introduction of Umar Manaf and the 4-2-3-1
Here, Afutu and Manaff (third midfielder) usually occupy the half spaces to receive in the second phase in between the lines, anytime Aminu drops into a CB position.
Esso, Fatawu and Michelle are very high up the pitch occupying the last line of the opponent. This simple tweak means that there are a lot of passing lanes/options created for a smooth progression of the ball as well as quick combinations in Grants wing-oriented play.
How it will play out vs Kotoko (4-4-2)?
1. High Pressing
One important feature of CK Akonnor's style (aka agoroball) is high pressing.
Grant, having changed to a 4-2-3-1, should not struggle structurally to by-pass Kotoko's press. However, the players need to have full confidence and trust in the system and stick to the plan, because high pressing in such games can trigger extremely disastrous errors.
2. Full-backs high up the pitch
Kotoko can boast of two of the most enterprising wingers in the league, Gyamfi and Boahen, who like to get in behind and can go past players as if there were not there.
With Hearts' fullbacks high up the pitch in their build-up, Kotoko can look to exploit the spaces vacated.
3. Midfield Numerical advantage (3v2)
Kim would have a numerical advantage in the central areas with Kotoko's 4-4-2.
This can be used to block passing lanes and set press traps in order to control the central areas where players like Kwame Bonsu like to dominate and most importantly, vertically find Kotoko's centre forwards - Yacouba and Fatau - who have enviable ball playing abilities as strikers.
The Kotoko team is qualitatively superior individually and this means that the Hearts of Oak players must intrinsically motivated to diligently execute Kim's gameplan with little or no room for error.