Sauharda Karki discusses three talking points after the Indian Super League game finished NorthEast United 0-0 Jamshedpur
The second game of the ISL saw North East United face newcomers Jamshedpur FC in a match where both teams struggled to find their rhythm for most parts of the game. The Highlanders were led by their fourth head coach in 4 years, João Carlos Pires de Deus, while the newcomers were lead by former Kerala Blasters coach Steve Coppell. Although the teams played out an uneventful stalemate at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, the first glance was quite revealing in what we can expect from both sides this season.
A Stronger NorthEast Back Four and Long Balls
Considering the leaky North East sides that we’ve seen over the last 3 seasons, this current back four seem to bring a lot more stability to the side. The defensive line seemed to be in sync for most parts of the game, with good spacing, setting a decent line, and staying in good shape despite Jamshedpur’s quick tempo play set to unsettle the back line. Defenders Nirmal Chettri and Robert, both set in very orthodox fullback roles, seemed very composed in dealing with attacks down the flanks and keeping deeper wide areas clear of threat. The center-back pairing were no less impressive. The experience of Goncalves and energy of Abdul Hakku bring a lot to the table for this North East United side. The pair were impressive in the air, and also added a lot to the offensive buildup. The 23-year old Indian Hakku will probably be one to follow this season.
The back four seemed to have an offensive role in launching long balls forward in early parts of the buildup, at times proving a threat to Jamshedpur’s defense. This, along with the two-man midfield system of the 4-4-1-1 formation, may be an indicator of João Carlos Pires de Deus’ focus on quicker, more direct play rather than a possession-first approach. Although a direct approach at home games against sides that defend deep, like Jamshedpur, is questionable, the system may prove a lot more vital in away games.
Jamshedpur’s poor buildup passing
In contrast to their decent defensive performance, Steve Coppell’s side seemed out of sync when in possession. With a poor 43% pass accuracy, Jamshedpur struggled to put up an offensive performance. The players still seemed to be adjusting to the team setup and very frequently failed to connect passes in key points of the build up, with very few instances of good link up play in offensive areas.
With the 4-3-3 setup and the offensive performance of the previous team that Coppell managed, a lot more was expected from Jamshedpur’s offense. The side still seem to lack an offensive purpose and a buildup system that works. Considering the offensive players at his disposal, Coppell may perhaps focus on getting Jamshedpur’s exciting wide players more involved.
Crosses, Crosses, Crosses for NEU
One look into the starting formation, and the width with which North East United started, and most could tell the team were looking to make the most of spaces in wide areas. What became even more evident as the game progressed was the fact that the Highlanders had one primary route of chance creation – crosses. With NEU averaging a cross in every 4 minutes (22 total), there was no doubting what their approach was in the offensive third. Although the battle down the left flank was a close one, Nirmal Chettri and Fortes did put in a decent performance down the right.
There is no doubt that crosses for chance creation can be a devastating approach, especially in the direct system in which North East United seem to be playing. However, as proven by the performance of several sides in the last few years, the positive effects of the system depend more on offensive movement and positioning of forwards, rather than the quantity, or at times even the quality of the deliveries into the box. The one area that João Carlos’ side need to improve on is offensive movement. The side showed very poor off-ball movement in central areas.
The poor offensive positioning became even more evident in the side’s performance in offensive set pieces. Despite the large number of set pieces won by the team, along with several considerably tall players in the side and quite a few quality deliveries from set pieces, the team failed to make the most of these opportunities.
Although the match brought another goalless stalemate to add to the season, it showed a glimpse of more exciting football to come, in a growing league that is getting more tactically intriguing with each season.
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