With Round 12 of the Indian Super League under way, teams will be desperate to make the most of these last few fixtures to ensure they make it to the knock-out stages of the tournament. Aakriti Mehrotra gives her account of the Delhi Dynamos in their reach for a place in the top four.
Delhi Dynamos currently stand the chance to reach the semi final of the Indian Super League if they win their remaining two games. Who would have thought that the side which drew most of its matches and lost others could make it to the knock out berths? Impressive tactical changes from the Delhi coach coupled by the Dynamos players producing solid performances off late have now made it mathematically possible for the club from the capital city to make it to the knock out stages. Granted, the tight nature of the points table did play a huge factor. Their next match is against Atletico de Kolkata, a team which has done extremely well in the competition so far. Atletico would provide a stern test for Delhi and will refuse to back down as they would be hoping to pocket all three points to sustain their challenge for the top spot against Chennaiyin FC.
Delhi would have hoped that their season would have kick-started a little earlier in the competition, but van Veldhoven would be pleased that the capital city club has hit the right gear at this crucial time. Delhi go into their final home game of the season at the back of two consecutive wins. This of course, is an advantage in itself but what gives the side another push is that the two wins were opposite in nature. Against NorthEast, Delhi really dug their feet into the ground to grind out a result. Eventually they were left with 10 men on the pitch, but the Dynamos were aware how badly they needed that win, and early goals from dos Santos and Hans Mulder ensured that. Against Mumbai City FC, Delhi dominated proceedings from very early on. They looked determined, pressed high up, wanted to attack the ball and most importantly, seemed positive. The hard-fought win over their north-eastern rivals clearly did a lot for the confidence of the players.
It seems like coach van Veldhoven has also found the ideal way to set his team up, which is basically the 4-3-3, or alternations of it. The Delhi coach also seems to have found most of his preferred starting 11 (all four changes in the Mumbai game were enforced, with Souvik Ghosh, Pavel Elias and Bruno Arias missing through injury and Souvik Chakraborty suffering suspension courtesy a red card in the previous game). What is important is that the Dutchman seems to have figured out the right tactics for his team.
The front three of Mads Junker, Francis Fernandes and the very impressive Gustavo dos Santos looks most threatening for the side. Shylo contributes in the attack as well, regularly threatening on the flanks.
Delhi have lacked goals and wins and a lot of blame has gone to the strikers. The coach made the interesting move and set Francis Fernandes as the false nine. Dos Santos and Junker regularly cut from the wide and there was a lot of interchange in positions in the front three. This caused the Mumbai defence a sufficient dilemma. One would think that Junker was the tip of the attack and there were three players behind him, but Francis was actually the one operating more centrally. Junker being a regular number nine, played mostly as a wide forward, and did an effective job regularly cutting in centrally and linking up with his attacking teammates. He could have had more than just the one goal.
Dos Santos’s game and the way he was set out by van Heldhoven was equally impressive. The Brazilian is very creative, and is the joint second top scorer in the competition. He was being used as Delhi’s super sub till now, but his good performances have earned him regular starts of late. However, the Brazilian often tries too much and produces unproductive moments of flair. His nationality and erratic nature, and on the positive side his creativity and flair, can easily remind one of Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.
Francis Fernandes was kept out of the side by Steven Dias for a run of games, but the player has done well in the previous two matches. He has essentially been operated as a false nine. He needs to improve some areas of his game such as his finishing and crossing, but the young Indian does a good job in the focal position of Delhi’s attack. The switch in positions between dos Santos and Francis in the previous two games was very effective as one of the two drifted wide and the other attacked through the centre. Delhi would be hoping the two can bring more of this in Delhi’s remaining games.
Van Heldhoven’s midfield trio comprises of a holding midfielder, one midfielder to compliment the holding player and a more attack minded player. The holding midfielder and the one who aids him dictate the play from the centre. Captain Hans Mulder and Bruno Arias are Delhi’s preferred two in this role. In the absence of the Spaniard, Dinis was chosen in the midfield and if Arias is going to be out for longer, we can expect Dinis to continue in this role. Between the two players, there is also an interchange in positions- one player stays back to shield the defence, and the other surges forward to link up with the attack. The two understand that there needs to be someone covering the defence, and one of them always stays back.
The other midfielder, Shylo, attacks, as seen in the case of Delhi’s previous game. The added advantage of using Shylo in that position is that he naturally has the instinct of attacking on the flanks, which gives the winger in the attacking trio more liberty to cut inside.
The defence is the area when van Heldhoven has made most changes and it seems like he hasn’t figured out his preferred back four. Obviously, injuries and suspensions haven’t exactly helped his case. Pavel Elias has been out a lot of times and the left-back, and goal scorer against Atletico de Kolkata, might keep Stijin Houben out of the team if he comes back. Anwar Ali has been a regular part of the team and the defence, and Delhi’s faith in the Indian has paid off with the player being solid at the back most of the times.
The most impressive thing van Veldhoven recently did is leaving del Piero out of his starting team. It is not easy to drop players, especially ones who are of the same pedigree as Del Piero, and who have taken most of the side’s transfer kitty sum. And even if this decision is enforced, as some reports suggest, it has helped Delhi. Del Piero still has a lot left in him and his leadership on the pitch helps the youngster a lot in pressure situations, but his weak legs sometimes make it look like Delhi are playing with a player less. Despite managing to create a lot of chances, for now, it seems like a good decision to keep him out of the starting eleven. If Delhi manage to reach the latter stages, perhaps the Juventus legend can feature more as his leadership would be essential for crunch, nerve wracking ties.
Delhi have played some very unattractive football at times, and there has been a clear paucity of goals in the capital side’s team, despite two of their wins coming with a 4-1 scoreline. On a positive note, Delhi go into the most crucial stage of the competition on the back of a good run of games. Their immediate focus would obviously be the final game at home. Kolkata have been one of the two most impressive sides of the competition but Delhi would be confident that they can get the three points at home. There were about 15000 people supporting the home side against Mumbai, but the atmosphere was buzzing. It genuinely didn’t feel like just 15000 people (which is one fourth of the stadium’s capacity), and the noise made in this particular match was as good as I have seen all tournament in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Obviously, when your side is giving you four great goals and an impressive performance, you just don’t stay silently and glued to your seats.
Against Atletico de Kolkata, a larger crowd is expected with a large Bengali community residing in Delhi. Besides that, this is the last game Delhi would be hosting if they can reach the knockout stages so the large section of football fans won’t miss the opportunity to see their home side and the impressive Kolkata in action. The atmosphere is being predicted to be like it was against NorthEast. It is a must win game for Delhi, but their recent performances have given the reason to dream, and they can.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra