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Three Things We Learned: Bengaluru FC 2-1 Mohun Bagan

Arnab Ray discusses three talking points after Bengaluru FC’s 2-1 win against Mohun Bagan in the AFC Cup.

Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan locked horns once again at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium having played out a stalemate at the same venue just a couple of days ago. This time around it was in the AFC Cup where the two Indian teams are in the same group after the latest format change. The importance of the fixture was not lost on both the teams as there’s little room for error given that only one side from the group will qualify for the knockout stages.

There’s fight left in Bengaluru

In the past couple of months, events surrounding Bengaluru FC seemed to be giving credence to the existence of Murphy’s Law. The club has gone on a shocking run of results punctuated by some terrible refereeing, a host of individual mistakes, and some plain old bad luck. Albert Roca has chopped and change personnel as well as systems, often starting the game with one gameplan before being forced to cast it aside as the Blues chased the game. With retaining the league title a lost cause, all the focus was on the AFC Cup and the Bengaluru faithful hoped that the competition that saw them on the cusp of history last season would see a resurgence in form in this one.

However, halfway through the game, it looked like the same old story for the Blues as they trailed to a Yusa Katsumi penalty going into the break. It was that familiar sinking feeling as Sandesh Jhingan, who kept Sony Norde exceptionally quiet last game, upended the Haitian in a momentary lapse. Arindam Bhattacharya got a strong hand to the penalty but wasn’t able to prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net. An individual mistake followed by a bit of bad luck and then came the customary Roca rejig. Eugeneson Lyngdoh was brought on at half time to replace the largely ineffective Lenny Rodrigues.

Much to the delight of the vocal home support, the game turned on its head in the space of a few second half minutes. Roca’s men were out early for the start of the second half and started the half with the same intent. The equalizer came in the form of Jhingan as the Indian International’s controlled volley leveled the game for the Blues. It was also the stroke of luck that the home side have been craving for quite a while now as Jhingan’s volley was deflected slightly giving Bagan’s custodian Shilton Paul no chance. Having said that, credit must be given to Jhingan for his well timed run, Cameron Watson for picking the run out and the coaching staff for a good set-piece variation, something we’ve grown accustomed to.

Bengaluru FC celebrate skipper Sunil Chhetri’s winner over Mohun Bagan at the Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Tuesday.

Once the equalizer came, the shift in momentum was palpable as the Blues piled forward in search of the winner. It was the Bengaluru FC of old with a tempo to the game that has been sorely missing in the recent past. The industry of CK Vineeth and Udanta Singh on the wings meant that the duo served as constant outlets with Sunil Chettri and Lyngdoh offering technical quality and initiating a higher tempo in the build-up. The eventual winner came as a result of an inexplicable brain fade from Paul in goal. Having gathered a rather lucky ricochet in the box, Paul shaped up to launch the ball up-field before changing his mind at the last moment and catching the ball, by when he had already ventured outside his penalty area. Chettri needed no second invitation as he delightfully found the bottom corner from the resulting free kick to seal three important points. Perhaps the second half comeback papered over a few cracks in the overall performance but there’s no doubt that this game could be just what the Bengaluru based side needed to turn things around. The nature of the win is heartening for the team and the fans as the work ethic shown by the players left little doubt that Roca’s men will be leaving no stone unturned in their continental adventure this time around too. With the chips down, Bengaluru FC came out swinging in the second half and landed a couple of lethal blows on Mohun Bagan.

Daniel Lalhlimpuia has a bright future but needs to improve his finishing

The striker’s position at the club has provided plenty of talking points already this season with CK Vineeth, Roby Norales, Daniel Lalhlimpuia, and new signing Marjan Jugovic all taking turns to lead the line. The Norales situation was certainly strange with the striker being unveiled as the Blues’ fourth foreigner before being loaned out to Ozone FC after a handful of appearances. Vineeth started the season in fine goal-scoring form before enduring a quiet period and Jugovic has yet to make a mark in his admittedly short stay. This has meant that the 19-year-old Daniel has been called upon by Roca to play as the number 9 on numerous occasions and the youngster has largely vindicated the Spaniard’s faith in him.

Not that the young striker has been prolific in front of goal. His contribution to the team comes in the form of his role in the build-up, as he’s shown a maturity in his game that is uncommon for young Indian strikers. The 19-year-old keeps it fairly simple when on the ball as his primary movement is to venture deep in search of the ball and link up play with the other attackers around him. The timing of his runs and some of his hold up play is impressive and it doesn’t take long to see why Ashley Westwood signed him up and why he’s already part of the national set-up as well.

One part of his game that needs improvement though is his finishing. Lack of clinical finishing has been a sore point for the Blues this season and Daniel is one of those guilty of being wasteful in front of goal. The golden opportunity against East Bengal when the score was 0-1 leaps to mind and even in this game, he should have done better on a couple of occasions. As soon as that aspect of the game improves, BFC and India have an all-round striker on their hands, one that the fans could see a lot of in the coming years.

Return to a wide role for Vineeth

CK Vineeth looks to pick a pass during the Bengaluru FC-Mohun Bagan AFC Cup game, in Bengaluru, on Tuesday.

CK Vineeth’s importance to the Bengaluru club has grown over the years, especially after Westwood chose to deploy the Indian International in a more central role. Vineeth was crucial under Roca in last season’s AFC Cup run as his industry and incredible work rate proved invaluable to a team that went into every knockout game as the underdogs. This season though has seen Vineeth struggle to find form after starting well, much like the entire team. On the day, Vineeth played on the left hand side of the attacking trident behind Daniel with Chettri playing behind the striker and Udanta on the right.

The Kerala born man had a satisfactory outing, being guilty of perhaps delaying a shot when things opened up on a couple of occasions but he still provided a good outlet on the wing. When the likes of Chettri and Lyngdoh occupy the wide role, they tend to naturally drift in-field and as a result there’s an aspect of asymmetry to Bengaluru’s play leading to a lot of attacking emphasis on the right wing with Udanta often the outlet ball from midfield. However with Vineeth, although an inverted winger looking to cut in and shoot at every opportunity, the starting position tends to be closer to the touchline which helps to stretch the opposition defence and crucially opens up space for the likes of Chhetri and Daniel to thrive in. The left hand side of the defence has been a major pain point for Roca as his side have been caught out in transitions on that flank time and again. Perhaps Vineeth’s willingness to run, run, and then run some more could aid in tightening up the Bengaluru defence.

Image Courtesy: Media JSW

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Arnab Ray

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