ISL 2018 | Can Bengaluru FC “suffer” their way to glory

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ISL 2018 | Can Bengaluru FC “suffer” their way to glory

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Subhayan Dutta

11/02/2018

Bengaluru FC became the third team to get a win in ATK’s backyard this season, but it wasn’t about the three points as much as it was about the manner in which they did it. Coppell has emerged as BFC’s biggest challenge in the last two seasons and Carles Cuadrat would be delighted to start atop.

Given how the Indian Super league has fared so far, only three sides have exhibited the ability of free-scoring – NorthEast United, FC Goa, and, Bengaluru FC. While Sergio Lobera’s FC Goa have extended their approach of high pressing and exquisite passing from last season to a new level with a total disregard for their backline, NorthEast United FC’s slow passing buildup, that has always been their doom before this season, has somehow looked to be their main strength this time, under Eelco Schattorie.

However, if there is one side who have evidently taken a more empirical approach despite them having an identical penchant for beautiful football and a love for scoring goals - Bengaluru FC. In the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Miku Fedor, and Udanta Singh, Carles Cuadrat might have some of the best forwards of the league, but the Spaniard never gets carried away with subjective play. And the best example of that was their match against ATK on Wednesday at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan, where they won 2-1 to take their point tally to 10.

The Blues came into the match at the back of two wins and a draw and despite averaging two goals a game Cuadrat knew that things were going to get really tough against a full strength Steve Coppell side. The Spaniard was playing the assistant manager’s role to Albert Roca last season when an innocuous-looking Jamshedpur FC, led by Coppell came to the Kanteerava Stadium and managed a shocking 1-0 win. The Blues were on a similar marauding run then, with the debutants wiping away everyone on their path before their unstoppable force struck an immovable object.

Bengaluru’s attacking line was not very different then wither, with Sunil Chhetri and Miku cutting in from the left and Udanta tormenting the right flank. Playing a 4-3-3 then, Coppell had completely obliterated Bengaluru’s switch play through Jerry Mawihmingthanga on the right flank and the prolific scoring side up till then, had faced hopelessness for the first time. While it took a whole 90 minutes for Roca to understand Coppell’s tactical master-class, Cuadrat had decrypted it.

Hence, bringing his side to Salt Lake headed by Coppell was in many sorts an extension of the arc between the two. But, this time the 63-year-old had upgraded his team magnanimously. In place of Tiri and Andre Bikey, who were in charge of stopping the forwards through the middle last season, Coppell had the experienced John Johnson and an extremely mobile Gerson Viera. Hence, his ploy to clog the space at the edge of the box was working more effectively and Bengaluru, despite enjoying 65% of the possession, was playing for a lost cause for most of the first half.

While Coppell had come to Karnataka last year for one point, he had a stronger arsenal up top this time. The trio of Bikash Jairu, Kervens Belfort, and Matheus Trindade, were replaced by Balwant Singh, Kalu Uche, and Manuel Lanzarote. Hence, while Jamshedpur had to spend a good quarter or two on their back-foot then just fending off BFC’s attack, ATK were actually lethal on their counters this time with Erik Paartalu, Albert Serran and Juanan were seen tracking back numerous times to support Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. And, all hell broke loose when Komal Thatal came up with a wonder goal from Everton Santos’ through ball early in the first half. Coppell, who had planned on getting one point from the match, was now looking at yet another distant possibility as he had fetchedon the night of December 21, 2017.



Standing on the sidelines, Cuadrat cut across as a hapless figure, who could see his players struggling to make things happen against ATK’s congested seven-man defence that was just a wall bouncing away anything and everything. But Cuadrat asked his players to endure the frustrating game by moving away from their positive approach. As a result, they could take the minuscule of chances whenever and wherever they got.

One finds light only after walking through the darkness for hours and in this case, the first glimmer of hope came in the form of Kalu Uche’s injury. Coppell was forced to introduce El Noussair and push Everton in the forward’s role who couldn’t really replace Uche, ATK’s sole weapon in front that unsettled BFC’s backline.

“We have to work, and we have to suffer… I think that we have good preparation for that, I coach my guys and they suffer a lot to keep these points,” said Cuadrat after the match.

What the Spaniard resonates through this could well take the Blues to the title this season that had very closely evaded them last time. Under Roca, the debutants had a mentality to show the league what they were made up of, which isn’t the case with their current manager. 

Bengaluru FC’s business model is primarily towards retaining fans and they know that it comes only from winning titles. It might sound great that a team should play “to express”, and with NorthEast United and FC Goa tallying 10 and 14 goals respectively, they might look unstoppable at times, but a league is won by negating others’ strength and not playing to yours’.

While FC Goa learnt it the hard way against Jamshedpur FC when Cesar Ferrando thumbed over their fountain of goals, Schattorie knows his side might stop getting last minute winners any day now. The same couldn’t be said about the Blues whose aim has looked much more objective this time that makes them the best contender for the title. For as they say, while optimists might have a better trip in the long run, it is the pessimist, who are mostly proven right.

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