TP Mazembe’s Jackson Muleka has been one of the brightest sparks in African football over the past season. The 20-year-old Congolese striker currently leads the top goalscorers list in the CAF Champions League, the African equivalent of Europe’s UEFA Champions League, having scored an impressive total of seven goals from his eight Champions League games this season.
The Congolese attacker’s impressive performances this term haven’t gone unnoticed and he has recently been linked with clubs such as Al Ahly SC, who are the most decorated club in Africa, as well as RC Lens, who will compete in France’s Ligue 1 next season.
In this tactical analysis piece, we will provide a scout report of Muleka’s performances for TP Mazembe and attempt to determine, firstly, why he has enjoyed such success at the Congolese club of late, and secondly, why clubs such as Al Ahly and RC Lens are being linked with the attacker who will turn 21 this October.
Muleka’s goalscoring has undoubtedly drawn some attention to him and one of the most important aspects of his game that has helped him to score so many goals has been his effective off the ball movement.
While his team are in possession of the ball, Muleka can often be seen making a nuisance of himself for opposition defenders. He constantly moves around, getting himself into potentially dangerous positions and passing lanes, which makes him a difficult player to deal with for opposition defenders who are forced to stay light on their feet and constantly maintain a high level of alertness whilst Muleka buzzes around the final third.
We will provide an example of the effectiveness of Muleka’s off the ball movement in this section. Firstly, in this image above, we can see Mazembe’s wide man in possession of the ball out on the right-wing. Meanwhile, we can see Muleka positioned centrally.
At this particular moment, the centre forward begins to shift his movement slightly to the left, directing his run to the outside of the opposition defender, which would leave this defender positioned between the attacker and the ball carrier on the right-wing.
However, as play moves on and the Mazembe wide man begins to move closer to the opposition box with the ball, Muleka quickly shifts the direction of his run to the inside of this opposition defender, giving the wide ball carrier the option of finding him with a quick cross to the front post as the young attacker darts in front of this defender.
This quick change in movement during a dangerous phase of the attack is an example of how Muleka can make a nuisance of himself for opposition defences. His movement is intelligent and unpredictable.
Furthermore, he possesses some impressive speed and agility, both of which help his body to keep up with his mind and quickly put his thoughts into action by invading dangerous space inside the box to help give himself an extra inch or two on the opposition which can be pivotal at times in allowing him to get a shot off effectively, should his teammates find him once he frees himself up via movements such as the one we can see him making here.
On this particular occasion, the ball carrier opts not to play a cross into Muleka. Instead, the wide man continues his run and carries the ball into the box. Meanwhile, the opposition defender has now been given the time to react to the 20-year-old’s movement and adjust his positioning accordingly.
However, as we can see here, now that the opposition defender has reorientated himself in response to Muleka’s previous bit of dangerous movement, the Congolese attacker attempts to stay one step ahead of the defender and he steps out a bit away from the direction of the goal. This creates space between him and this defender once again and gives the ball carrier another opportunity to pick him out in a dangerous position.
This passage of play climaxes a few moments later when the ball carrier manages to evade the challenges of the opposition players who had applied pressure to him, as he carries the ball out to the edge of the penalty area. Meanwhile, the opposition defender continues the game of ‘cat and mouse’ with Muleka by stepping up, both in response to the attacker’s movement, whilst also keeping his positioning in line with his defensive partners.
However, as we mentioned, Muleka’s quickness is a key part of his goal threat and the attacker is capable of getting onto the end of probing through balls behind the defensive line while keeping himself well onside, which he manages to do on this occasion.
The ball carrier gets his head up at the edge of the penalty area and spots Muleka beginning to make his move back inside behind the opposition defensive line.
The passer threads the ball through the defensive line and finds the well-timed run of Muleka, who now finds himself in a 1v1 situation in front of the opposition goalkeeper.
As play moves on and Muleka closes in on goal, we see the attacker perform a sharp turn on the ball to successfully round the goalkeeper. This ‘sharp turn’ is a specific movement that he often makes which helps him to evade challenges or draw fouls from opposition defenders. On this occasion, the quick, agile attacker performs this movement to evade the oncoming goalkeeper and leave himself with an empty net.
This passage of play provides us with just one clear example of how active Muleka makes himself, off the ball, inside the final third. He constantly roams about, attempting to create some space for himself inside the final third and inside the penalty area. This makes him a difficult man to mark and keep track of inside the box.
This ability to drift into dangerous pockets of space in between defenders or create distance between himself and defenders also helps Muleka to grab the occasional headed goal, even though, at 180cm (5’11”) opposition defenders often do have a physical size advantage over him.
Muleka tends to occupy the centre forward position as a lone striker within Mazembe’s system, with the Congolese side often lining up in a 4-2-3-1 shape. When advancing the ball from the middle third into the final third during a period of possession, Mazembe’s tactics often require Muleka to drop slightly deeper and attempt to help the midfield link up with the attack to advance the ball into the final third and subsequently attempt to help his side break into the penalty area.
Muleka can perform this role semi-effectively, however, the attacker is not a playmaker, as is evident by the fact that although he is currently the CAF Champions League’s top goalscorer, he hasn’t provided a single assist in this season’s competition.
The 20-year-old has made an average of 19.24 passes per game in this season’s CAF Champions League, with a 74.7% success rate, meanwhile, Mazembe have made an average of 420.38 passes per game, with an 83.7% success rate. These statistics show that Muleka generally doesn’t participate a great deal in his side’s build-up play, which is probably for the best, as his technical ability isn’t one of his standout qualities.
However, what is one of his standout qualities is the threat that he poses when running in behind the opposition defensive line. Muleka is at his most dangerous when playing off the last shoulder of the opposition defence. The previous passage of play which we analysed above provided us with a visual example of how his ability to time his runs, his positional intelligence and his physical gifts of speed and agility combine to help him threaten from this position.
This next image above shows us another example of how Muleka can threaten the space in behind the opposition defence due to his pace. In addition to his passing, Muleka’s dribbling is a potential area of improvement for the young attacker. On occasions when he attempts to beat multiple defenders with his dribbling, Muleka does sometimes get dispossessed without causing too much trouble.
His ball control while on the move and under pressure from opposition defenders could do with some improvement, as after beating one defender, he can often be seen losing control of the ball and allowing the opposition to dispossess him.
However, in a 1v1 situation, such as the one we see him in here, Muleka has more than enough quality on the ball and more than enough pace to get around the opposition’s defensive line and storm towards the penalty area.
Muleka’s defensive work-rate is positive and this can see him end up slightly wider than the central position in which he usually plays. Mazembe forced a turnover just prior to this particular image being taken and at that point, the ball fell to Muleka in this position on the left-wing.
He controls the ball quickly and knocks it around the outside of the opposition full-back, who isn’t positioned particularly wide at this moment, which allows Muleka to have plenty of space to run into on the wing.
As play moves, this next image shows us that the opposition right-back struggled to keep up with Muleka who continues his run on the outside of the defence along the left-wing. Even though he covers more distance than this defender, due to his running line being more curved in order to get around the player, he comfortably manages to get in behind and get himself into the box ahead of the defender, where he can then attempt to pull the ball back for a teammate.
This passage of play shows us another clear example of how effective and useful Muleka’s pace can be for his team. He isn’t only effective when being played in behind the opposition defensive line, his pace also helps him to get around the opposition’s defence, as we see here, which can cause problems for the defence. As we said, his dribbling quality can do with some improvement, however, in a 1v1 situation like this, he can be quite difficult to deal with.
While the first two sections of this tactical analysis piece are important for explaining how Muleka gets himself into goalscoring positions, this section will discuss the Congolese attacker’s ability to finish from those goalscoring situations and Muleka has exhibited an impressive ability to finish chances in a variety of different ways.
He has shown that he’s got the pace and anticipation to arrive in the box and get onto the end of a cross on the counterattack, while he has also shown that he’s got the ability to position himself in optimal positions inside the penalty area to create a little bit of space in between himself and the defenders which can help him to get into attractive positions for Mazembe’s playmakers to pick him out and give him the chance to pull off a one or two-touch finish.
In addition to that, Muleka has shown the composure to pull off an impressive chipped finish, as well as the ability to score impressive goals with either foot. However, the most impressive aspect of Muleka’s finishing might be his ability to put what sometimes appears to be seemingly unstoppable levels of power behind his shots, whilst not compromising on accuracy.
In this image above, we can see Muleka making a run from a central position out towards the right-wing where he can meet this through ball from a teammate who we can see positioned slightly deeper on the right-wing here. Muleka makes an intelligent run into this channel between the opposition’s two centre-backs to collect this through ball and get in behind the defensive line.
This next image shows us that as play moves on, Muleka speeds into the box ahead of the opposition defenders. However, we can see that he is approaching the box from quite a wide position here and it may be fair to say that it doesn’t appear as though the 20-year-old attacker has successfully forged out a goalscoring opportunity for himself here, although one might think it’s plausible that he could either continue his run from this position or play a cross into a teammate.
The opposition defender also seems to think that Muleka needs to cut back onto his left foot from this position, as he decides to slow down his run a touch in order to cover the inside and attempt to prevent Muleka from simply cutting back onto his left foot with the help of his agility and leaving this defender in his tracks.
As play moves on, we see that Muleka, in fact, has got no intention of cutting back onto his left foot. Instead, he pulls off a quick and powerful shot via his right boot that this defender and maybe even this goalkeeper hadn’t anticipated. This shot quickly sends the ball into the roof of the net and Muleka puts his side one goal to the good from a seemingly unlikely position on this occasion.
This shows us just one example of just how effective Muleka’s impressive shot power can be. The 20-year-old is capable of pulling off some ferocious shots via his right boot which can result in goals like this one. On this occasion, you may be right in saying that the goalkeeper could have done a lot better here, however, that takes nothing away from the shot which results in the goal.
This type of shot that comes at pace and power from Muleka’s right boot is a frequent feature of his game. The majority of his goals are scored via his stronger right foot and in a powerful, yet accurate manner. He tends to place shots more with his left foot, which can also lead to some impressive strikes from a considerable distance, however, his most dangerous shots come via his right boot in this style, though not all are scored from such an unlikely angle.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece in the form of a scout report, Muleka’s talent lies in his ability to spot and successfully get himself into dangerous positions inside the box, the physical gifts of his pace and agility, as well as his ability to score a variety of different goals, in a variety of different styles. However, the majority of his goals do come from his stronger right foot with which he can generate an impressive level of power, whilst maintaining accuracy.
Muleka is not without fault. The technical aspect of his game, both with regard to his dribbling and his passing, could do with some improvement, his height can be an issue at times, both with regard to taking advantage of crosses and when contesting goal kicks, and while he has got an excellent defensive work-rate, Muleka often goes to ground too easily and can be beaten quite easily when he attempts to tackle.
However, he has got some clear strengths to his game and when they are taken advantage of by his team’s tactics, he is a difficult player to cope with and he has been effective thus far following in the footsteps of attackers such as current EPL attacker Mbwana Samatta and Royal Antwerp’s Dieumerci Mbokani as the player leading the line for TP Mazembe.