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A trip to Kolkata was next up for the league leaders as they took on title rivals East Bengal. Ashley Westwood’s men came away from the Barasat Stadium with 3 precious points as they tasted their first victory against East Bengal on Bengal soil. Arnab Ray has a look at what we learned from the game that finished East Bengal 0-1 Bengaluru FC.
The Blues hoped that the journey from West to East would see a reversal of fortunes after they slipped to their first defeat of the season against Mumbai FC last time around. A quick turnover between games meant that last year’s runners-up had little time to lick their wounds. The game was a chance to turn things around immediately and that’s just what the away side did courtesy a Sunil Chhetri second half goal.
Predicting the Bengaluru FC line-up before the game is never easy with Westwood’s attention to detail leading to a number of tweaks designed to overcome the opposition in front of them. The Englishman often alludes to carrying out video analysis of the opposition before the game and this results in a specific game plan to overcome the opposition more often than not.
As expected after the game against Mumbai FC, Westwood rang in the changes both in terms of personnel and systems. The injured Eugeneson Lyngdoh was replaced by the energetic Thoi Singh while young defensive midfielder Malsawmzuala was brought in for the more attack minded Alwyn George. Upfront another of the Blues’ young new signings, Seiminlen Doungel was trusted from the start replacing the hard working CK Vineeth.
On paper it looked like the return of the customary 4-3-3, but as the game panned out it turned out to be a bit more complex. In the defensive phase of play, Bengaluru ensured that the midfield was well placed in front of the back 4 to provide protection, an area exposed by Mumbai in the last game. Zuala was the dedicated defensive midfielder and carried on from where he left off previously. The youngster has looked very competent at breaking up play and in possession and put forth another encouraging display. Shankar Sampingiraj and Thoi were the 2 other central midfielders with the latter having an important role in the set-up. Thoi’s energy was leveraged by Westwood as the Manipuri midfielder had dual roles. He was expected to not only provide cover to Rino Anto down the right flank but also make up the number in the central areas to ensure that Bengaluru had the numerical advantage against East Bengal’s 4-4-2 when they attacked centrally. Thoi may not have gained that many plaudits but his energy was vital for the away side.
With Thoi Singh marshaling the right hand side of the midfield, Len Doungel found himself playing more centrally. Both John Johnson and Curtis Osano were not shy of trying to find Kim Song Yong with the long ball, Len was on hand to provide much needed support to the North Korean striker. Playing off the big man, the 22-year-old was a constant menace for the East Bengal defence as he justified his selection and put a real shift in before he was replaced by Vineeth in the second half. Both Kim and Len were also instructed to run into the channels behind the opposition full backs when the space opened up. With Sunil Chhetri occupying a higher position on the left as opposed to Thoi Singh on the right, Len and Kim were both drawn to the right wing as they helped stretch the East Bengal defence.
There have been plenty of mentions of energy in this article already and it should come of little surprise. The Blues pride themselves on their fitness and a professional approach involving sports science often bears fruit on the pitch. When East Bengal were in possession in their defensive third, Bengaluru were quick to step up and close down the ball. Only Zuala kept his position as the deepest lying midfielder with the 2 strikers Kim and Len, along with 3 midfielders Shankar, Thoi, and Chhetri all pressing the ball in the first phase of the build-up play.
If executed correctly, a high intensity coordinated pressing scheme is difficult to deal with. The opposition has to either play through it with quick precise passing or dribbling ability or just bypass it completely by playing long balls. The duo of Arnab Mondal and Bello Rasaq are a formidable pairing at the back but not likely to go on adrenaline induced, defence tearing solo runs. The same can be said of Mehtab Hossain who once again is a competent rather than imaginative distributor of the ball. With no other options, the home side looked to find Ranti Martins and Joaquim Abranches with long balls. This played right into the away side’s hands as John Johnson and Curtis Osano easily dealt with the aerial threat. The selection of Zuala once again paid dividend as he was on hand to pick up the second ball. Overall the pressing scheme did a great job of stunting the East Bengal attack and only after the goal did the Blues sit back and defend the lead.
Rino Anto and Chhuantea too saw their roles changed slightly on the day. Usually more than happy to bomb forward and join in with the attack, the full-backs were a bit more restrained and served as another layer of protection in case the press was bypassed. They were selective in their forays forward but eventually did have their say in the game. Rino Anto’s curling left foot cross found Sunil Chhetri in what turned out to be the telling blow.
Westwood was true to his word as he replaced Mawia Ralte with Amrinder Singh in goal after the former’s mid-week blunder. The 23-year-old looked very comfortable in between the sticks as he hardly put a foot wrong during the course of the game. He commanded his penalty area well and was assertive in dealing with any crosses that were swung in. His most noteworthy contribution was a splendid save as he thwarted Do Dong-Hyun’s curling free kick which seemed destined for the back of the net. He not only did well to palm the effort away from the danger area but also reacted sharply to keep out the rebound. Stabaek’s Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has made the Indian goalkeeper’s position his own and with Amrinder and an experienced Subrata Pal waiting in the wings, Stephen Constantine has a welcome problem of plenty with respect to the national team.
Amrinder Singh may have walked away with the Hero of the Match award but it could have quite easily have gone to another member of the Bengaluru defence, Chhuantea. East Bengal splashed the money on Korean winger, Do Dong-Hyun and much is expected from him. Playing on the right wing, Do failed to make much of a contribution largely duo to Chhuantea’s defensive ability. The left-back was positionally excellent throughout the game and also used his recovery pace well when it was needed. He didn’t venture forward as often as he does at the Kanteerava as mentioned above. A team effort with encouraging individual displays from the likes of Chhuantea and Amrinder saw the Blues take home 3 points from this top of the table encounter.
IMAGE CREDIT: I-LEAGUE MEDIA
Written by Arnab Ray