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After coming away from their first home game of the season with a convincing win against Shillong Lajong, Bengaluru made the trip to Mumbai to take on Khalid Jamil’s men. Arnab Ray has a look at what we learned from the game that finished Mumbai FC 2-0 Bengaluru FC victory.
The rivalry between Mumbai FC and Bengaluru FC is an unlikely one and yet not lacking in intensity. Both the clubs were formed recently and it’s a rivalry forged very much by incidents occurring on and slightly off the pitch with the infamous bottle incident in last season’s I-League only serving to heighten the tension between the two clubs. With all 4 of the previous I-League games ending in draws, the Mumbai side came away with the bragging rights courtesy 2 first half goals.
Ashley Westwood’s decision to keep the diamond formation that served him so well this past weekend against Shillong Lajong was a brave one. The performance against Thangboi Singto’s side was a convincing one with Kim and Vineeth linking up well and Bengaluru enjoying the lion’s share of possession in the game. However, the game was obviously influenced heavily by a first minute goal from Vineeth and judgement over the suitability of the formation for the personnel at Westwood’s disposal had to be reserved.
Thus, it came as a bit of a surprise that the Englishman opted for a diamond in midfield once again with Shankar Sampingiraj coming in for young Malsawmzuala as the base of the diamond. Alwyn George kept his place at the tip of the diamond with Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Sunil Chhetri occupying the two wider roles. It was perhaps a decision influenced by their previous fixtures against Mumbai. Khalid Jamil’s men pride themselves on being an organized unit and are often happy to sit deep and soak up the pressure. Hindsight is always 20/20 but Westwood would have been better served adopting the pragmatic approach that got him the result against Aizawl in Gameweek 2.
Mumbai were not afraid of committing men to the attack and got their reward in the form of an early goal through Arata Izumi. One of the main weaknesses of the diamond is the fact that the side is susceptible to overloads in the middle of the park especially in defensive transitions and that was apparent in the opening goal. The entire defence was forced to backtrack and with only Shankar providing protection in front of the defence, Mumbai were able to get bodies in the box with the loose ball falling to Izumi whose shot found a way past Ralte in goal. Westwood was quick to see that the set-up was affording too much space in between his midfield and defence, space that Mumbai looked to exploit in every attack. An immediate rejig saw the midfield retreat into more of a straight line of 4 and closer to the defence before a complete overhaul at half time. Chhetri and George were withdrawn and replaced by the duo of Udanta Singh and Thoi Singh as the away side reverted to their customary 4-3-3 formation. This brought forth a better performance from the Blues in the second half but it wasn’t enough to overturn a two goal deficit.
Ex-custodian Pawan Kumar made his first appearance against his old side but the spotlight was firmly on his counterpart as Mawia Ralte was beaten from nearly the half line by Mumbai’s Son. After impressing for Atletico de Kolkata in the Indian Super League, Amrinder Singh was snapped up by Bengaluru on loan from Pune FC in the off-season. The 22-year-old is yet to make his competitive debut for the club but is obviously highly rated by those who matter at the club.
Ahead of the game against Shillong Lajong, Westwood had this to say about his new signing, “He’s obviously a good goalkeeper which is why we’ve signed him. We’ve been in the position in the last two years at this club where we’ve never had two number 1s. We’ve never had any pressure on the number 1s and that’s the reason we’ve got him. He’s equally as good as Mawia, he could turn out to be better. He’s just got to be patient and wait for his chance. He’s well equipped to come into the starting eleven. I’m sure he’ll be in anybody else’s side which is a credit to Mawia. He’s [Mawia] got to keep his standards up and the minute he slips, Amrinder will get his chance.”
Son’s snapshot from a loose ball in midfield ended up in the back of the net much to Mawia’s embarrassment. It wasn’t a perfectly placed shot a la David Beckham’s legendary effort and the Mizo goalkeeper will not be keen to watch the replay. The 23-year-old did well to recover from a shaky start last season and has barely put a foot wrong since a bad day at the office against Mohun Bagan. However, after this mistake all eyes will be on who gets the nod in the key game against East Bengal this weekend.
Much has been made of BFC’s attacking personnel on the back of Sean Rooney’s exit and Robin Singh’s injury. The onus has fallen on new signing Kim Song Yong to be the focal point of attack and lead from the front. The North Korean striker has struck up a promising partnership with Vineeth and was deservedly the Hero of the Match against Shillong but unfortunately went missing against Mumbai’s organized defence.
It is harsh to criticize somebody who has thus far played only 4 I-League games for the club but the truth is that in tough away fixtures like this, Kim has to do more as he leads the line. He’s proven to be good in the air and he won his fair share of headers but very few of those found a teammate. The striker needs to find a way to make the ball stick and give a chance for the play to build around him. He’s surrounded by the likes of Sunil Chhetri and Eugeneson Lyngdoh who are both excellent ball players and an ever willing runner in Vineeth. Even when isolated, Kim has to find a way to hold off opposition defenders and emerge with the ball. It’s a task much easier said than done especially in Cooperage, a narrow pitch made more constricted by a Mumbai defence often seeking security in numbers.
The poor level of link play was a collective failure of course, but as always it’s the highlights of games that stick with us for the longest time. Kim misplacing what was a simple pass in the build-up to the goal would not have earned him any favours with Westwood. While the striker will have to emerge as the leader in the string of upcoming games, it is up to the rest of the attack to find the same wavelength and wipe this disjointed performance at the Cooperage from the memory of their fans.
Written by Arnab Ray