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From the Pressbox: North East United’s 4-1-4-1 impresses, but ends in a stalemate vs Delhi Dynamos

Aakriti Mehrotra reports from the press box as Delhi Dynamos played their 3rd home game of the Indian Super League, where they remain unbeaten, encountering a good North East United side.

Delhi Dynamos were involved in another goalless draw at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The home side took on third placed NorthEast United in their fourth match of the tournament. After a convincing 4-1 win over Chennaiyin FC just days before, more was certainly expected from the home side. However, Ricki Herbert’s NorthEast team was never going to be easy to beat.

In the first match for Delhi, their dominance was clear, but it didn’t really result in anything for them as they were held in a goalless draw against Pune FC. However, they had much to be proud of after the game and could certainly take a lot of positives Not the same can be said about the tie with North East.

Set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, NorthEast started the game in an incredibly attacking and positive fashion. They were completely dominating the game for the first ten minutes and Delhi looked under considerable pressure. In the absence of Koke and Joan Capdevilla (who were both out with slight knocks), on paper it looked like the visitors might find it very difficult. But their swift movement and good organization ensured that they did not seem handicapped. Miguel Garcia stepped in for Capdevilla and had a solid game. Tomas Josl and Robin Gurung constantly exploiting the space on the left flank which was also a result of Adil Khan not doing a good job slotting in as a right back. His weak positioning didn’t even help last match’s best performer Steven Dias who operated on that wing as Dias also had to contribute to the defence. He was not doing much for the defence, and his primary attacking job was also restricted because of this.

The pressure put by NorthEast could have got them a goal very early but both Boro and James Keene found their efforts saved. In the nervous starting moments, Delhi did attack through counters, but this did not help them get any stability.

After the first fifteen minutes, Delhi started getting themselves back into the game. There was a deliberate effort to slow the tempo of the game and it did work in Delhi’s favor. They kept the ball with themselves and gradually moved it forward creating openings through the likes of Del Piero, Shylo and Dias.

The visitors retained control in the second half as well. Immediately after the whistle, the pacey Gurung sent in a sumptuous cross which James Keene should have converted, but somehow the player managed to miss the opportunity. In fact, he did not even make proper connection with it. Later on in the game, there were moments for both sides. Del Piero’s short cross was almost converted via an absolutely ridiculous back-heel attempt by Mats Junker, which rattled the cross bar. That was the closest the hosts came to in this game.

Super sub Dos Santos replaced Del Piero and found himself in a brilliant position to get his side up, but he did not even remotely find the target from outside the box. Later, midfield general Hans Mulder had his attempt brilliantly saved by Rehenesh, the NorthEast goalkeeper.

NorthEast could complain of being robbed off a penalty. Raymaekers got a hand across full back Robin Gurung and the player hit the deck hard in the box but the referee refused to give the visitors a spot kick. Felipe and Bertos both had attempts in the second half but both the NorthEast players failed to hit the back of the net.

Eventually the game ended in a stalemate, a result neither side would be too pleased to take. With the way NorthEast performed in the opening minutes of both the halves, especially the first one, they would have hoped they would walk away with all three points. Delhi did a good job of slowing things down both times and finding openings through counters as well as sheer creation of the players. Coach van Veldhoven said that his team lacked balance, which was ultimately the key. “Organization is okay. But I need more balance in the team. I have a team that is learning a lot. But we had more possibility but we didn’t do everything that I was asking. We can do much better”, said the 52-year-old.

The biggest problem Delhi have at the moment is that they look to score in the opening twenty to thirty minutes, and after that, they become increasingly subdued, and somehow the chances fail to materialize. If an opposition can see off the first half an hour, Delhi might struggle to break them down later. van Veldhoven needs to find the balance he wants. He needs a plan B where his team can break down defences when they are more settled in the game. Of course, it is not an easy task. Especially in a tournament, where there are games everyday, and you’re travelling all the time, and there is not much of a pre-season. Mid-season shifts in tactics and plans are easier said than done, but this Delhi side has plenty of potential and an alternative plan B could do them a lot of good if they enter the final stages of the competition.

NorthEast United’s approach of total football was highly impressive. They were attacking, composed and creative. The only thing which was missing was the final product and this would be Ricki Herbert’s main challenge- to get more goals. So far, the side has managed four goals. That’s the same number Delhi managed in its previous game. A win is a win but this is an area that could do with some improvement for NorthEast. There is a lot of attacking flair in the team, but not enough is being done to make the most of this flair.

Robin Gurung and Rehenesh were two outstanding Indian players from the match. The others like Shylo, Anwar Ali also had a decent overall game. When asked about what should be done to encourage Indian football, Herbert had endearing things to say.

“Confidence is one thing, opportunity is another thing. The link-up of the players (Indian and international) is great. We’re building that. They have to be together. In the hotel etc. They can keep evolving. Give them a chance. Indian players are outstanding, they need a chance”.

A special mention has to go to the crowd. It has been mentioned that the JLN stadium is a 60,000 seater and in a city like Delhi, where there is not much of a footballing culture, it is difficult to have a full house. However, the attendance of this game was around 35000, a very impressive number. Delhi, often called ‘Mini India’ has a lot of ethnicities and we saw a large section of north-eastern people turn up to support the away side, who joined the travelling fans. These people created the most noise in the stadium which also encouraged the home fans turning up their volume. The friendly banter between the two sections was enjoyable. Ricki Herbert said after the game that his side’s fans were the best in the league as they’re always there to support the team. Even Hans Mulder, of Delhi Dynamos, said after the game that he and Bruno joked before about being unsure if they were playing home or away.

Written by Aakriti Mehrotra


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