Bengaluru FC kicked off their first home game of the campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win against Shillong Lajong, making it three wins out of three at the start of the 2016 season. Sami Faizullah takes a look at what we learned from this emphatic victory.
Having gotten narrow victories in their opening two games, Bengaluru FC ensured the thunderous home support was treated to a spectacle; a goal in the very first minute from CK Vineeth and two from new signing Kim Song-Yong on either side of half-time sees the 2014 champions now top the table, three games in. With just sixteen games in this shortened I-League campaign, a 100% record can have a telling effect on the title.
Vineeth & Kim have a formidable attacking partnership
Bengaluru FC have never had a shortage of striking options, with Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh and Sean Rooney proving to be among the leagues most clinical attackers. But with Rooney sold and the bizarre ISL-led saga of Robin Singh (along with his injury) keeping him out, Bengaluru FC were in need of attacking options.
Ashley Westwood couldn’t have asked for a better response than what CK Vineeth and Kim Song-Yong have provided. The former scored the side’s opening goal of the season against Salgaocar, and doubled his season’s tally inside the opening minute of the game against Shillong Lajong. A rather scuffed shot to the far post was as electrifying a start as the home support could have hoped for, but it was Kim’s knock down to Alwyn that eventually put Vineeth through on goal. Kim on the other hand pounced on a rebounded shot to net home from close range after Vineeth’s cross started the move, before Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s neat through ball was followed by a composed finish from the North Korean who completed a brace in his home debut for the club.
But it wasn’t just the goals that impressed viewers, it was the link up play between the two scorers that has propelled Bengaluru FC’s attacking play. The two complement each other well, forming a classic big-man/pacy striker partnership. Kim has an impressive physique to assist his exploits upfront, proving to be an ideal target man; but with Vineeth’s runs in behind the defence and his drifts into wider areas, Bengaluru FC’s dynamic attacking approach has only been heightened. While earlier one may suggest that both Robin & Rooney were rather static in the attacking third, Vineeth and Kim are providing a completely different dimension to Ashley Westwood.
The manager spoke to Outside of the Boot of the options now at his disposal “Any new partnership needs a bit of time and this pairing [Kim & Vineeth] gives us options. We have played two strikers and one wide man. I am happy with them so far, I just hope they start scoring more goals as we go forward.” But with the form the two are in, it’s unlikely these would just be options as opposed to the preferred starting attackers.
Westwood was quick to point out after the game though about the other strikers in the squad. “Vineeth and Kim were linking up well, but you can see how Udanta with his pace can do that as well”, told Westwood on Udanta Singh’s impressive cameo in the second half, while also mentioning Daniel Lalhlimpuia’s imminent return from injury.
The future is bright for Bengaluru FC
I-League rules require atleast one U-22 player to start every game of the season, as the governing body AIFF looks to ensure the growth of the younger generation of footballers. The rule is important to ensure development of both the sport and the individuals within it.
From Bengaluru FC’s perspective, this only means a brighter future for the club with an impressive talent pool within their ranks. 18-year-old Malsawmzuala has started all three games for Westwood’s men, playing as the tip of their diamond formation. Though only impressive in phases, the midfielder still requires time to set into the system, a fact that Westwood acknowledged post game.
And as the game proceeded, Westwood ensured more of their U-22 youngsters played some part in the game. First 21-year-old, and local lad, Shankar Sampingiraj, came into the game and had an assured performance as the deepest midfielder of the diamond, before which Udanta Singh came on to replace CK Vineeth. The 19-year-old Udanta was energetic in his brief appearance, showcasing immense pace and a persistence to take on opposition defenders.
Westwood proudly spoke of the youth in the post-match press conference, “As a coach, we don’t just need to win matches, but it’s our duty to also develop young footballers. We have among the highest number of youngsters in the league, and we always sub one with another”, the gaffer said when asked about Malsawmzuala.
The Englishman also took a dig at Mohun Bagan who started with U-22 youngster Azhruddin Mallick in the big Kolkata derby against East Bengal, before taking him off just 13 minutes into the game, replacing him with Balwant Singh. “We see other teams abuse the rule and take off young players after 12 minutes [sic], that frustrates us”, said the gaffer.
It’s crucial for an under-developed footballing nation like India to prioritise grassroots football and seek sustainable opportunities for the next generation of players; and it’s welcoming to see a foreign coach like Ashley Westwood take a keen interest in this very aspect at his football club.
The end of Robin Singh?
As eluded to earlier, the Delhi Dynamos & Bengaluru FC tussle for 25-year-old Robin Singh is proving to be an interesting side story to the larger I-League/Indian Super League debate. But with regards to his future at the club in the present, the story isn’t so rosy if you’re a Bengaluru FC supporter.
The injury sustained to Robin while on international duty has kept him on the sidelines and away from competitive action, and the legal drama further prevents him from participating with the club. But the game against Shillong Lajong seemed to have sealed the 25-year-old’s fate at the club, even though an official story from any party is yet to be released.
When asked about his attacking options in the lead up to the game, Westwood told Outside of the Boot “We’ve got Daniel, the new lad that we signed, he looked very good to be quite honest. At the time that Robin Singh got injured, obviously it is a loss, I respect what Robin Singh has done for us but because of the way Daniel had been training, it didn’t hurt me too much.”
He further compared Kim Song-Yong with the striker and concluded that the North Korean is better in the air. It’s no secret that many Bengaluru FC supporters have grown frustrated with Robin’s lack of strength in the air, but for the coach to openly mention this seemed to be a well-placed dig at the big Indian striker.
To add to this, the first official match programme of the season at Bengaluru FC’s fortress, Kanteerva stadium, had a notable exclusion. The official 25-man I-League squad displayed in the programme lacked a certain Robin Singh, forcing many to question if this is the unofficial end of Robin Singh’s love-hate relationship with Bengaluru FC.
Written by Sami Faizullah