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Sami Faizullah discusses three talking points after Bengaluru FC’s 2-0 win over Chennai City FC in the inaugural South Indian Derby.
Last week we discussed how Cameron Watson would be crucial for Albert Roca’s system to function. But with the Australian missing from the starting line up following a stomach bug, we got an opportunity to have our question answered: “…while Alvario Rubio alternated this role with Watson before leaving the club, it’ll be interesting to see who Roca trusts as a back-up to this deep lying role.”
Against Chennai City, we had our answer. 29-year-old Lenny Rodrigues was called upon by the Spanish coach to take a more defensive role in comparison to how we saw him deployed last week. The Goan midfielder took up the roles and responsibilities of being the initiator of attacking moves from the back while ensuring he contained the opposition in a defensive capacity.
Albert Roca told Outside of the Boot: “We needed someone who can keep the ball and be calm in situations, so we needed him [Lenny].”
While his passing range and vision are certainly sub par compared to what the Australian, Cameron Watson, has showcased, Rodrigues proved to his coach that he had options in what could certainly be considered the most important position in Roca’s system. Bengaluru FC’s head coach has ensured he has options for all positions and while the defending champions have an abundance of options in midfield, a dependability on Watson for that specific deep midfield role might have been worrying Roca. But while Rodrigues didn’t stand out in the 2-0 win in the derby, he certainly has shown experience, maturity and professionalism to play that role when called upon.
On the back of Bengaluru FC’s domination in Indian football, and the professionalism with which they’ve approached the sport in the country – both on and off the pitch – teams have now begun to realise the true gulf in class that exists with the South Indian club. While in the past we may have witnessed sides’ being more adventurous when travelling to the fortress, both Lajong and Chennai City FC have shown a preference to contain the opposition and walk away with atleast a point.
In Saturday’s derby, the situation was no different with the away side deploying Marcos ‘Tank’ Vinicius alone upfront with the rest of the side set up to provide service over-the-top to their Brazilian striker. And while Chennai City succeeded in frustrating the home side, a change in the second half at a point where the newcomers could potentially have grabbed an unlikely goal changed proceedings. The Tank went off and midfielder Michael Rejin was brought on to defend from the front.
Albert Roca responded by playing a higher line from the start, fully realising that Chennai City would be looking to play a more direct approach in attack. Trusting his defenders to not be beaten pace for pace, and rather to win their aerial duels, Roca instructed his defensive line to be stationed at the half-way line of the pitch. This resulted in a non-existing attack for Chennai City and numerous offside calls against their two pronged Brazilian attack (Tank and Charles).
Player Ratings: Bengaluru FC 2-0 Chennai City
Though Bengaluru FC dominated in terms of possession and opportunities, the side failed to create clear cut chances besides a couple in the opening thirty minutes of the game. Chennai City were defensively well organised in containing the home sides’ fluid attack. The game had a rather flat tone to it from the closing stages of the first half, leading up to Bengaluru FC’s opening goal which is a commendable reflection of the newcomers. Coach Robin Charles Raja was quick to point out that his side came with the intention of containing Bengaluru FC and were “unlucky” in conceding two goals with thirteen minutes left.
The biggest takeaway for Albert Roca from this would be a more solid strategy in facing sides that sit deep and defend with the intention to snatch a draw, while looking for rare opportunities on the break. Bengaluru FC have naturally accepted a more fluid passing system which can be crucial to breakdown opposition, but it was a simple cross into the box followed by a minor scramble that led to the opening goal.
This sort of game plan from the opposition could potentially become customary at the Fortress and the home side might find it increasingly difficult to walk away with the three points. Facing Bengaluru FC with the intention of playing attack vs attack may not be the most advisable tactics for an opposition, and so a more conservative approach is what sides’ would resort to.
Last week we spoke about Bengaluru FC’s options at full-back, but it was their diversified attacking capabilities that caught attention in the South Indian derby.
The home side started with youngsters Udanta Singh and Daniel Lalhlimpuia once again in the attacking front three, with Mandar Rao Desai handed his first start to complete the trio in the final third. Sunil Chhetri thus dropped off into a attacking midfield role as the middle of the park was reshuffled by Roca following Watson’s absence.
The entire starting front three were impressive, specifically Udanta Singh, and looked lively with their quick touches & swift movement. Chhetri too pushed higher up, completing a rather attacking approach from Roca’s men. But Chennai City’s organisation forced the Spaniard into changes with Honduran Roby Norales handed a debut off the bench, while fan favourite CK Vineeth brought on moments later.
It was this duo that managed to get onto the scoresheet late in the game, first from Norales and then Vineeth, securing three points and avoiding a rather dismal result. The fact that Roca managed to put out a side that dominated the attack, then made changes that saw Chhetri, Norales, Udanta & Vineeth on the pitch together, is a reflection of the depth existing in the defending champions’ squad.
Roca has the flexibility to alter his approach based on the opposition, while any potential fixture congestion and injuries may not leave a significant impact on the side.
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