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Three Things We Learned: Bengaluru FC 1-3 East Bengal

Sami Faizullah discusses three talking points after Bengaluru FC’s 3-1 loss to league leaders East Bengal

Success has been a common theme in Bengaluru FC’s short history, with two league titles in three seasons, a domestic cup and a historic continental run to boast in just three years. But the club are now on their worst run of results, with a title challenge a distant dream. But a clash with East Bengal gave the defending champions a chance to turn their season around, an occasion both players and supporters are always looking forward to.

Robin Singh still has a future

The script was always written, the actions rehearsed and on the day – everything fell into place. After the well publicized contract issue that derailed Robin Singh’s Bengaluru FC stint as the I-League and Indian Super League clashed, the striker was always losing ground in terms of popularity among the Blues’ supporters. He eventually returned to East Bengal, the club where it all started, and that’s when the script was prepared.

The 26-year-old scored in the return fixture to hand Bengaluru FC the first defeat of the 2016-17 season, and the striker returned with more in mind at the Fortress.

Greeted to a rapture of “F*ck you Robin” from the West Block supporters, the ex-striker was never going to have it easy from the supporters he turned his back on. But in the space of a few minutes in the second half, he headed his side into a two goal lead before a left footed shot saw them go three goals clear. Singh put his hands up in apology for both goals, ensuring he didn’t celebrate against the supporters who so famously chanted his name. The gesture was met with a rapture of applause from the home support.

But away from all the drama, the pure footballing performance from Robin Singh was the best we’ve witnessed, arguably since his Bengaluru FC days. Besides the goals, the striker showed commitment off the ball, constantly pressing to ensure his side regained possession. He was also seen dropping fairly deeper than assuming the usual target man role.

Physically, Robin is a unique Indian footballer, with a rare sign of build and strength, uncommon in Indian football, especially for an attacker. Used to his best potential and at his level best, Robin could well be the future of the national team for years to come. And the game was a reminder of what Singh can bring to the sport, when playing at his best. As Trevor Morgan put it, “It’s all up to Robin now”.

Failed three man defensive experiment

Coach Albert Roca saw the potential threat from East Bengal’s two man striker system and opted to alter his back line, starting with Juan Antonio, Sandesh Jhingan and Salam Ranjan Singh. While the aim was to strengthen a defensive line that has severely been missing John Johnson, it also consequently shortened Bengaluru FC in midfield. This set the tone of the game as East Bengal began dominating the middle of the park, preventing the home side to create anything meaningful while the away side themselves were a constant threat on the counter.

The first goal arrived as Wedson Anselme made one of many runs right through Bengaluru FC’s midfield, as East Bengal quickly over-turned possession (again, a regular occurrence). The driving run from the Haitian ended with some clever footwork before a clinical finish with his left foot.

Bengaluru FC never recovered from there, neither in terms of a goal threat nor in the midfield battle as Cameron Watson and Lenny Rodrigues both struggled to establish any authority.

Roca switched to a regular two man back line in the second half, with the three man defensive experiment failing to earn results. The Spaniard took responsibility for the tactical tweak in his post match comments, though not attaching entire blame on the system. While the change made sense on paper, it failed to materialize; Roca, like the Bengaluru faithful, will be looking forward to John Johnson’s potential return.

Football was the winner today

Whilst we focus on a more tactical narrative with our “Three Things We Learned” pieces, we felt we needed to allow diversification of our points to fit in a factor that was arguably more important with the on-field result.

With a large contingent of travelling fans, a respectable home turn out and a whole lot of chants insults throughout the ninety minutes, Indian football is well on its way to developing a football culture. East Bengal came out in numbers to get one over a side they’ve struggled against in the past away from home while the Blues had their regular passionate contingent. What ensued was the sort of spectacle we’ve come to experience in football dominated countries/leagues elsewhere.

This wasn’t a dull football game to be forgotten, the results went far beyond from just three points. And for years, this is what Indian football has been missing. A passionate set of supporters, whose passion is shared by the players they support. Hard tackles, determined pressing and an intense post match scuffle between players & coaches, this was the sort of “big” game the sport deserved.

Yes, East Bengal got the victory they came looking for while Bengaluru FC were left disappointed; but the game ensured that this ‘rivalry’ has a long term future and that can only be positive for the future of the sport. The game needs money, but it also needs passion; we got that today – well done to everyone involved.

Read all our Bengaluru FC content here

Sami Faizullah

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