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Analysis | Three Things We Learned: Bengaluru 1-2 Chennaiyin

Arnab Ray discusses three talking points about the Indian Super League game that finished Bengaluru 1-2 Chennaiyin


The ISL’s “One City, One Team” rule has resulted in a very liberal use of the term derby. The build up to the first ever clash between Bengaluru and Chennaiyin continued the trend with the term ‘Southern Derby’ doing the rounds on social media. Whatever your take on the debate over the term, there was no denying that this particular fixture was an important one. The geographical proximity between the two sides and socio-political significance gave the fixture an extra edge. The fact that both sides had enjoyed good starts to the season only added to the sense of occasion as Bengaluru hosted Chennaiyin at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

In a hard fought encounter, Chennaiyin came away with all 3 points after putting forth a gritty performance. Here are three things we learned.

Chennaiyin work hard off the ball to frustrate the hosts

Chennaiyin’s encouraging start to the season is built on a strong core through the centre and this was evident over the course of the ninety minutes. In the post-match press conference, John Gregory was full of praise for the brand of football Bengaluru play, going as far as to say he “really enjoyed watching them play on TV”. However, it was evident that Gregory’s side was set up specifically first and foremost to prevent the home team from finding their rhythm.

The early goal helped of course but there’s little to suggest that Chennaiyin would have gone about their business any differently had Jeje Lalpekhlua’s early strike not occurred. Setting up roughly in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Raphael Augusto playing off Jeje in attack, the away side’s back 4 were happy to hold  a deep line. Ahead of the back 4, the pair of Dhanpal Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh put in real shifts as they harried and hassled the Bengaluru midfield. The pressing was ball oriented with Ganesh and Singh situationally stepping up to press the ball carrier with the help of Augusto who dropped into midfield when the home side had the ball. The duo weren’t shy in terms of tackles either as they were happy to concede fouls high up the pitch to disrupt Bengaluru’s build-up play (as evidenced by the 10 fouls committed in the first half as opposed to the home side’s tally of 4). The high energy performances of the duo (and Anirudh Thapa who replaced Singh in the second half) saw the Blues struggle to make inroads through the centre. Toni Dovale, deployed in the number 10 role, failed to get into the game in the first half and it came as little surprise to see Albert Roca switch things up at half time introducing Udanta Singh to provide more width.

There was also special attention given to Sunil Chhetri who came up against one of the best right-backs of the league in Inigo Calderon. Chhetri tends to drift deep and towards the centre from his starting position on the left. Calderon was happy to follow him, sometimes as high as the halfway line. This in theory would mean that Nishu Kumar on the overlap had space to work with but Francisco Fernandes was diligent in his tracking back duties and did well to get goal side of Nishu on most occasions.

With such an approach, Gregory would probably have taken a draw but a late lapse by Bengaluru saw them take home a massive three points from what is a tough fixture for every ISL team. The away side was in Bengaluru’s face from the first minute and their physical approach did the trick as they capitalized on some charitable defending to register an important win.

Bengaluru struggle to create openings against a packed defence

Bengaluru enjoyed a Federation Cup win and another deep run in the AFC Cup last season but failed to mount a title challenge in what turned out to be their final I-League campaign. Roca’s men saw a string of draws put paid to their title hopes. What was common in this sequence of draws was their inability to break down sides that were happy to sit deep and frustrate the Blues’ attack. The display in the first half from reminiscent of some of those games from last season as the home side registered only 2 shots on target in the first half despite enjoying 61% possession.

With 3 games in the space of 7 days, Roca chose to rotate his line-up making as many as 6 changes from the game against Pune City but it was perhaps Udanta Singh’s absence that was felt the most. As touched on earlier, Chennaiyin effectively shut down the centre of the park and the Blues failed to stretch play without Udanta on the pitch. Instead, the home side tried to force their way through the crowd with passing combinations through the middle. Unfortunately, this wasn’t slick enough to unlock what is an experienced and physically intimidating defence.

It came as little surprise when Roca brought Udanta on at half time for Lenny Rodrigues. The switch meant a change in formation to a 4-4-2 with Udanta on the right, Edu Garcia on the left and Chhetri partnering Miku through the centre. Dovale slotted into central midfield alongside Dimas Delgado. This move almost paid immediate dividend as good work down the right from Udanta led to Miku setting Chhetri up soon after the restart. The Bengaluru skipper spurned the chance but the first attack set the tone of the second half.

However, the first half performance should be cause for concern for Roca and the rest of the Bengaluru think-tank as they look to bounce back from this defeat. Next up for the Blues is Steve Coppell’s Jamshedpur who have conceded only 1 goal in their 6 games thus far and are pretty much guaranteed to come into the game with a focus on keeping a clean sheet above all else.

Leaky defence punished as Roca rings in the changes

Looking back at the game, the Blues will probably be kicking themselves given the manner of the goals conceded. The first goal was a result of a wild clearance from Rodrigues ricocheting off Chhetri to fall kindly to Jeje. The India International was never going to miss from just 6 yards out. At the risk of stating the obvious, an early goal set the game up perfectly for Chennaiyin who from then on were happy to stay compact and frustrate the Blues.

With a bit over 15 minutes remaining and his side still trailing at home, Roca had to throw the kitchen sink at the opposition and replaced John Johnson with Braulio Nobrega. This saw yet another structural re-jig as the home side switched to a 3-4-3 formation. The equalizer did come with Chhetri finishing emphatically after a good measured ball from Dovale. The last laugh though was to belong to the away side as the Bengaluru defence, with both Johnson and Juanan looking on from the sidelines, switched off completely from a late set-piece. Dhanpal Ganesh rose above the rest to find the back of the net and consign Bengaluru to their second defeat of the campaign. The home side will feel hard done by due to some very questionable calls from the referee towards the end of the game but after working so hard to get the equalizer, the nature of the late goal conceded will probably hurt more.

It would be extremely harsh to criticize the decision to substitute Johnson given the state of the game but the fact remains that the Blues have kept a clean sheet in only 2 out of their 6 games this season. In the last 3 games we’ve seen Johnson and Juanan being alternated alongside Rahul Bheke at the heart of the defence. With 8 foreigners in the squad and only 5 allowed on the pitch at one time, it is difficult to get the right combination but perhaps it’s time for Roca to chose his best centre-back pairing and give them a run of games.

(Featured image via ISL)


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