Sami Faizullah discusses three talking points about the Indian Super League game that finished Bengaluru FC 4-1 Delhi Dynamos
Bengaluru FC played their second game of the Indian Super League against a Delhi Dynamos side that were also on the back of three points in their opening fixture. It was set up to be a fascinating clash as both sides are led by Spaniards who come from an attacking football school of thought.
Bengaluru FC’s two lines of press
Lenny Rodrigues and Erik Paartalu were among those tasked with the midfield responsibilities, and unlike the previous game against Mumbai City, where there was a more cautious approach in the middle third, Roca encouraged his midfielders to push forward with and without the ball.
It was the side’s setup without the ball that was particularly interesting.
Lenny specifically was tasked to be further forward of the midfield tip when Delhi had possession, quickly supported by the attackers, and when Delhi managed to bypass this setup with a shorter ball, Erik Paartalu headed the second line of the press.
This essentially created two lines of a press for Bengaluru FC higher up the pitch, forcing Delhi into long balls and minimal possession for the midfielders.
Delhi Dynamos, much like Bengaluru FC, are a side that like to have possession of the ball and build from the back. The primary method of countering this is with a higher press, usually conducted by the attacker. When you employ a second line of a press, as Bengaluru FC did with their midfielders, it prevents the opposition from finding either their midfield avenues or players out wide. Delhi was then forced into long ball clearances and Roca had enough faith in John Johnson and Juanan to deal with these.
The press also prevented any potential of creativity from Delhi’s midfield, and pushed the side further back. The game as a result was played largely in Delhi’s half-space, and though the tight spaces didn’t allow too many openings for Bengaluru FC until they had two goals, it encouraged another outlet from midfield as a reactionary tactic (more on this later).
As was evident in the game, Delhi Dynamos’ head coach Miguel Angel Portugal conceded defeat to Bengaluru FC’s press, “They [Bengaluru FC] pressed high, and it surprised us.” said the 61-year-old, “We didn’t expect them to play this way.”
While Albert Roca has employed a press in the past, the intensity of it against Delhi was a surprise to most. When Outside of the Boot asked the Bengaluru FC head coach about whether they can maintain this over the course of the season he said: “We saw how Delhi played in the last game, and we knew we had to press more and higher. But yes, it does require more energy from the players and we’ll have to see every game”.
Bengaluru FC’s versatility in attack
While one may argue the Blues have a dependency on their attackers for goal-scoring opportunities, this game saw third man runs from midfield that breached Delhi’s defensive line with the home side forced to react (as mentioned earlier) with their passes and movement given Delhi’s naturally defensive set up.
Lenny was again at the forefront of this approach, with a couple of runs in behind, besides attempting shots from outside the box. It was this attacking intent that got him his goal, just as some may have been worried that Bengaluru FC were not as much a threat from open play.
With plenty of reshuffling in the squad particularly affecting Bengaluru FC’s midfield, the side have often struggled for both creativity and options from the middle. But in Erik Paartalu and Lenny Rodrigues, Albert Roca may well have found his preferred pairing, trusting them in the opening two Indian Super League games.
While the two have put in a shift in defence, an added avenue in attack only further diversifies their attacking options which reduces the pressure on attackers.
Besides options from open play, Bengaluru FC’s superiority from set-pieces has further added to their threat in front of goal. As was the case in the opening game against Mumbai City, set-pieces proved to be crucial in the sides’ win over Delhi Dynamos. The work of Assistant Coach and set-piece expert, Carles Cuadrat, in that area was at the forefront again, with the Blues taking the lead from a well worked free-kick routine that saw Harmonjot Khabra make a run at the far post before heading back for Erik Paartalu’s opener. The Australian scored his second from a corner, a more fortunate one with rather poor defending at the near post from Delhi.
To add to this, the home side’s third came from a quick counter involving the midfield and attacking third, while the fourth was a more individual spectacle from Miku. The four goals meant Bengaluru FC now hold a joint record with FC Pune City for scoring six goals in the opening two games of an Indian Super League season, both clubs reached this feat in the day’s ISL fixtures.
Roca’s Bengaluru FC look like a complete attacking side, with sides who sit back defensively punished from set pieces, and those that are more adventurous feel the brunt on the counter. Everything else is filled with some quick passing in midfield.
Miguel Angel Portugal’s scheduling issue
We asked Delhi Dynamos’ head coach Miguel Angel Portugal before the game if he potentially saw any impact of having to play four days after their first game while Bengaluru FC had a longer one week gap.
“I don’t know why it is like this,” said the experienced Spaniard “most other leagues have more regular gaps between games. But maybe at some other point, we’ll have one week and our opponents only four days”.
The impact of the gap was evident in Delhi’s performance at the Kanteerava Stadium, with the home side naturally more efficient and energetic. Though Portugal understandably was forced into a more pragmatic setup, the manner in which Bengaluru FC played through their opponents would have frustrated the 61-year-old.
“Bengaluru FC is a good team, and they played well so congratulations to them. But I again have to state, we could have a different result if they [Bengaluru FC] had four days to prepare and we one week” reiterated Portugal.
In fairness to Delhi, they were not completely outplayed for large parts of the game, and one may argue Bengaluru FC had it easier in the opening game against Mumbai City. At the close of play (and possibly skewed by the penultimate minutes), Delhi completed the game with superior possession (54%), more passes (510), more touches (642) and a better passing accuracy (52.9%) than their opponents. What let the capital club down was their performance (or lack of it) in the final third owing largely to Bengaluru FC’s press.
This along with the work rate of Bengaluru FC in attacking situations ultimately proved to be a decisive factor, which left Portugal further frustrated with the scheduling.
Though when Outside of the Boot asked Albert Roca on his thoughts in the pre-match Press Conference, the Spaniard stated “72 hours is all that footballers need between games”.
To each his own.
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