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Sunil Chhetri of Bengaluru FC and Robin Singh of ATK in action during match 42 of the Hero Indian Super League between Bengaluru FC and ATK held at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bangalore, India on the 7th January 2018 Photo by: Vipin Pawar / ISL / SPORTZPICS

Bengaluru FC

Analysis | Three Things We Learned: Bengaluru 1-0 ATK

Arnab Ray discusses three talking points about the Indian Super League game that finished Bengaluru 1-0 ATK

With the Indian Super League season approaching its half way mark, there’s little to separate the front-runners at the top of the table. The likes of Bengaluru, Goa, Chennaiyin, and Pune have all threatened to break away from the rest of the pack at different times only to be pegged back. Bengaluru in particular slumped to consecutive home losses against Chennaiyin and Jamshedpur before a stunning 3-1 win in Kerala to finish 2017. They came into this game at the Kanteerava looking to start 2018 on the right note in front of their home faithful.

ATK on the other hand have recovered from a quiet start to be in playoff contention. The return to fitness of Robbie Keane has seen an upswing in their fortunes. With a number of ex-Bengaluru players in the squad, the Kolkata based side had an opportunity to make a statement.

Fluid Bengaluru attack needs to be more clinical

The scoreline may have read 1-0 in favour of the hosts at full time but in truth Bengaluru should have probably won by a bigger margin. The home side carved out a number of quality chances and even hit the post on two occasions. Key to this was the fluidity of the Bengaluru attack.

The Blues have found it difficult to break down opposition defences set up in a deep block and Roca will be hoping that this fluidity will go a long way in addressing this problem. On paper, Bengaluru set up in a 4-3-3 formation with Miku up top flanked by Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri on the right and left respectively. Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado, and Edu Garcia formed the midfield trio while Roca stuck to the same back 4 of Harmanjot Khabra, Rahul Bheke, Juan Gonzalez, and Subhashish Bose from the Kerala game. This was how the home side lined up from the start with Chhetri looking to drift in-field as he usually does and Udanta opting to stick to the touchline.

As the first half progressed, there was positional rotation in the attack with the exception of Miku whose role remained unchanged throughout. Chhetri took up a more central role with Garcia slotting in on the left to form a 4-4-2 structure. This not only committed more bodies up front on the ball but also meant that the home side could press more effectively. It was this shape that enabled Bengaluru to get the decisive goal on the night as Conor Thomas misplaced a pass in his own third. The ball fell to a centrally located Chhetri whose fierce strike found the back of the net.

Quizzed on this after the game, Chhetri had the following to say, “We’re quite flexible, especially because we have Miku. With him in the side, Udanta, Edu, and I can shuffle our positions on the pitch. He’s our target guy. He makes our work easier and all of us have no problems in playing in different positions. And we’ll keep doing that. As long as our coach wants us to do it, we’ll keep doing it.”

However, despite the number of chances created, it’s a bit of a concern that Bengaluru scored a solitary goal on the night. They paid the price for profligacy in front of goal in the 2 previous home games against Chennaiyin and Jamshedpur. As the second half of the season beckons followed by possible playoff games, Roca will be hoping that his side can put away more of their chances, especially against tougher opponents.

Robbie Keane the only creative spark for ATK

The ex-Republic of Ireland International has turned around the fortunes of ATK after coming back to fitness and had another encouraging showing. Playing off target man Robin Singh in a 4-4-2, Keane had the freedom to roam and did just that. He often dropped deep to provide an extra man in midfield and showed neat touches throughout the game. Unfortunately for ATK, the 37-year-old had little to no support on the night.

Robin Singh had a frustrating outing against his old team while the midfield duo of Shankar Sampingiraj and Thomas struggled to provide any attacking impetus to Teddy Sheringham’s side. It was unsurprising to see the ATK boss change things up at half time as he brought on Ryan Taylor and Bipin Singh for Shankar and Zequinha. The shape, however, remained 4-4-2.

The wingers had a quiet night and with Eugeneson Lyngdoh out due to a serious injury, one can’t help but wonder where the creativity through the middle will come from. A 4-4-2 system requires an out and out box-to-box midfielder, something ATK seem to lack. The reliance on Keane is worrisome especially as we head towards the business end of the season with temperatures across the country set to rise. Can Keane do it on a hot, Saturday afternoon in Goa?

Blues’ defensive resolve and upcoming fixture congestion

The twin home defeats against Chennaiyin and Jamshedpur were difficult to take for the Bengaluru faithful because of the nature of the defeats. As the Blues chased 3 points in both the games, Roca opted to sacrifice a foreign defender and go for broke. This backfired on both occasions as the defence went to sleep and conceded late on. Even the big win against Kerala saw Gurpreet Singh Sandhu fail to keep a clean sheet as they shipped in a late consolation goal.

The fact that they had a lead to defend on the night certainly helped as Roca was able to bring on John Johnson for Delgado towards the end of the game. This saw Bheke move to right-back and Khabra slot into midfield as the home side shut out the game in commanding fashion. It would be unfair not to credit the starting XI though. The team pressed well at times and maintained their shape throughout the game to limit ATK’s attacking threat.

As the game progressed it was interesting to note that the likes of Udanta and Miku seemed to be tiring. The duo were substituted for Alwyn George and Braulio Nobrega respectively and that could be an indication of things to come. The ISL’s schedule has improved drastically this year with more gaps between games and yet it’s still a pretty cramped schedule for the teams. This coupled with their AFC Cup commitments means that the Blues are set to play as many as 8 games in 27 days starting from this weekend’s fixture against Delhi Dynamos. Rotation is definitely on the cards and it will be up to the likes of Nobrega, Alwyn, and Lenny Rodrigues to step up when called upon to do so.

(Featured image via ISL)

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Arnab Ray

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