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Arnab Ray discusses three talking points after Bengaluru FC’s 3-0 win over Mumbai FC in the I-League.
The defending Champions, Bengaluru FC started the season in a manner you’d expect from title holders. Two wins against Shillong Lajong and Chennai City were ones their faithful would have expected but as the cliche goes, you can only beat what’s in front of you. As such, the Blues’ first real challenge of the season would be Mumbai FC.
The Mumbai side has taken on a new avatar with Santosh Kashyap taking over the reins from Khalid Jamil. Under Kashyap, Mumbai have made a bright start to the season with two wins under the belt. Notably, the team was made up of only domestic players in both games, something to be lauded in an era of Indian football where the focus on big name foreign players has increased *cough* Indian Super League *cough*.
Partnerships throughout the pitch are an important aspect in football and the one that defined this game was that of Harmanjot Khabra and Udanta Singh. On paper, it is not one that regular watchers of BFC would’ve predicted at the start of the season. Rino Anto has made the right-back role his own in the past three years but an injury has kept him out for the start of the I-League season. The versatile Khabra was drafted in as his replacement and has had a bright start to his stint with the defending Champions.
All three goals of the game originated down the Bengaluru FC right with the attacking impetus provided by the above-mentioned duo even early in the piece. The home side’s dominance of the wing was no accident either as the advantage was one carefully constructed and then exploited.
The initial phase of build-up play sees the centre-backs John Johnson and Juan Antonio split and defensive midfielder Cameron Watson drop in between them as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in most possession-oriented systems. Watson receiving the ball is the trigger for Khabra to get on his bike and bomb forward. This forward movement is complemented by Udanta’s movement in-field into the half-space and on the shoulder of the Mumbai left-back. This ensures that Khabra has space to move into and if his run is not carefully tracked by the opposition winger we see a 2-on-1 overload develop on the wing. Once the right-back has started his run, Watson uses his impressive passing range to pick him out. With the space created and the ball on the way, the opposition left-back is usually drawn towards the ball. To further press the advantage, Udanta continues his run into the space behind the defence and Khabra more often than not tries to find the youngster with a first time pass. This sequence is repeated time and again and is crucial especially as teams now head to the Sree Kanteerava Stadium with a primary focus on staying deep and frustrating the Bengaluru attack.
There are of course variations on the above theme with Udanta sometimes tasked with dropping deep and picking up the ball while Khabra makes the more penetrating run behind the defence or more patient build up involving intricate play between the two of them before managing to deliver the cross. A good example of the former variant was the second goal of the game. Nishu Kumar switched play to find Udanta on the right wing while Khabra made an overlapping run. The young winger found Khabra with a well-weighted ball and the latter made the most of the chance to whip a first time cross in as he picked out Vineeth’s clever run with clinical precision. Vineeth’s hat-trick will make the headlines and rightly so given the quality of the goals but in retrospect it was the Udanta-Khabra axis that saw Mumbai come away from the game with nothing to show for it.
The fact that CK Vineeth does not have more Indian caps to his name is a mystery and one can only hope that the Indian National team manager Stephen Constantine, who was reportedly in Bengaluru, was watching the game closely. The 28-year-old had a great ISL campaign with Kerala Blasters but had to wait for the third I-League game for his first start of the season. Having scored at the weekend, Vineeth was in no mood to let Mumbai off the hook as he took his chances brilliantly to score what is the first hat-trick in the club’s history.
The striker is a nightmare for opposition defenders as his immense work rate means that there isn’t a moment’s respite. With pace to burn, Vineeth is the ideal man to lead the line in a system where pressing from the front is a crucial aspect, but more on that later. The work rate is always something that Vineeth brought to the table but his game has gone to another level in the past couple of seasons. The addition of a cutting edge has seen him hit the back of the net regularly and from the ideal support striker, Vineeth now looks more than capable of leading the line himself.
The Indian International should have done better when Sunil Chhetri played him through in the first half but apart from that it’s hard to criticize the striker. Coming to the goals themselves, they were ones that any number 9 would be proud of. A good poacher’s goal broke the deadlock on the stroke of half time before a excellent run saw him double his tally as explained above. The best of the lot though was the hat-trick goal as he received the pass with his back to goal, turned and expertly picked out the bottom corner all in one motion. A day to remember for Vineeth.
While pleased with the win, Albert Roca wasn’t altogether satisfied with the performance with the Spaniard saying that Bengaluru still had a long way to go. He pin-pointed Mumbai’s pressing game unsettling his players in the first half especially on the back of the game against Chennai City where the away side were content to sit in a deep block. However, what one can’t help but notice is just how disciplined the Bengaluru side themselves were off the ball.
The press was initiated by the front line with Vineeth, an ever-willing runner, attempting to close down the centre-back with the ball. Eugeneson Lyngdoh was not far behind with Chhetri and Udanta both closing down the wide options. Further behind Lenny Rodrigues and Cameron Watson both move higher up the pitch to further choke the opposition with the former especially aggressive and willing to move closer to the first line of the press.
The final part of the jigsaw sees the defensive line move up the pitch with the duo of John Johnson and Juan Antonio forming what is perhaps the most imposing defence in the I-League with few strikers around who can best them when it comes to aerial duels. Some of the pre-match build-up focused on Mumbai’s Victorino Fernandes whose pace was seen as something that could trouble the Bengaluru defence. However, with Bengaluru’s pressing and positional nous strangling the Mumbai build-up, it was left to individual skill of the players to try and conjure up something in attack. Kashyap’s men were supposed to be the first true test of the Bengaluru defence and it is one they passed with flying colours. There is a caveat though, as Kashyap himself admitted that he had to put aside his normal attacking philosophy in order to try and limit a powerful line-up. Having said that, Roca’s men will have their organization and indeed their title credentials tested as they take on fellow contenders East Bengal at the Barasat Stadium in their next fixture. Until then it’s business as usual for Bengaluru FC as they finish gameweek 3 at the top of the table.
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