ISL Tactical Analysis | Tactical sagacity helps Bengaluru outwit Chennai at home for first time

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ISL Tactical Analysis | Tactical sagacity helps Bengaluru outwit Chennai at home for first time

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SportsCafe Desk


Bengaluru FC played out an entertaining match against Chennaiyin FC on Sunday that had everything to offer – tactical shrewdness, a stunning goal, fast paced counters, and a deserving result. However, in doing so, both teams revealed too much for others to exploit them in the upcoming months.

Carles Cuadrat transforms harmless players into crucial weapons

Jamie Carragher had famously said: “If you're a fullback, you're either a failed winger, or a failed centreback. Nobody wants to grow up to be a Gary Neville.” While the advanced leagues like the English Premier League, Bundesliga, or La Liga have seen the full-back position evolving tremendously over the years, in most other leagues, full-backs are still considered harmless. Similarly, Chennaiyin didn’t have any special plans for Bengaluru’s Nishu Kumar and Rahul Bheke and it was quite normal for they weren’t as fearsome as Miku, who was spearheading the attack or Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and new arrival Xisco Fernandez, who were assisting him. But, Carles Cuadrat decided to give Nishu and Bheke the most crucial of responsibilities that eventually broke the deadlock.  

Starting with a conventional 4-2-3-1, Chennaiyin had no concerns whatsoever at a glance. The Marina Mahcans had surely had their drills worked out approaching the game and every player knew exactly what they had to do before they could realize the hidden ploy behind the predictable lineup. BFC’s formation seamlessly transformed into 3-2-4-1 and even 2-3-4-1 when they were attacking, with their prime objective being pressing high and keeping the ball in and around Chennai's box for long. While in the first setup, the full backs took the midfield role as Erik Paartalu dropped back and Harmanjot Khabra joined the front three, the second one saw Chhetri and Udanta becoming inside forwards with Nishu and Bheke going wide. And Bengaluru’s solo goal, which looked as random as a defensive mistake, came from this same move. Bheke got Gregory Nelson way above the half-way line with the Chennaiyin defence completely out of position.

 Rahul Bheke comes out of his position from wings to the midfield that sets up the goal. 
 Both Rahul Bheke and Nishu push along the flanks to form midfield as midfielders fall back as defenders.

John Gregory gets Jeje Lalpekhlua’s free-flowing role on target

Bengaluru and Chennaiyin are amongst the very few teams in ISL, who haven’t opted for a complete overhaul of the squad this season thereby showing faith in their core. However, persisting with the same team from last season has its disadvantages as well, as your opponent would have a detailed scout report of the team’s setup and how every player is used. For a moderately offensive team like Chenniayin FC, Jeje Lalpekhlua was pretty much the biggest threat going forward and he had to present his forward veiled in a different look for the same role.

Jeje’s USP has always been his relentless energy in the attacking third and the fact that he could score only seven goals last season showed that Gregory had failed to get the best out of him. Hence, the Supermachans saw their forward in a more free-flowing role at Kanteerva on Sunday where he was falling back and chasing players, thereby providing more support for the two playmakers - Raphael Augusto and Gregory Nelson. And it worked well for the visitors as their more involved striker got some genuine chances in the first half, which if taken could have seen the score differently. Chennaiyin’s front three kept trading places making it very difficult for Bengaluru’s new central defensive duo to read. In order to polish his role more, Jeje would have to learn marking the deep-lying midfielder now, which of down properly, could break opponent’s structure at crucial junctions. 

Chennaiyin fail to read Bengaluru’s monotonous approach

Though Bengaluru was leading the match at half-time with a late strike by Miku, Chennaiyin fans were still quite optimistic about the final outcome. While Bengaluru’s winless record against Chennai at home was one prime reason for it, the other more evident guess was the kind of play they had seen in the first half. At halftime, Chennaiyin were leading the possession by 58% to hosts’ 42% and one couldn’t write it off as futile for Jeje had missed two sure shot chances to give his team the lead. The Supermachans had every reason to believe that their team was on the right path and it seemed that had kept they kept on persisting with it, the visitors would have returned home with a draw at the least. And although the outcome relied a lot on Chennaiyin’s wasted chances, the biggest reason was Cuadrat’s safe approach.

 © Bengaluru forwards press high at Chennaiyin defenders after a long ball to catch them off guard.

Both the halves saw Bengaluru’s starting move being a long ball right into Chennaiyin’s box and the hosts were taking this route more often than not. Make no mistake, in terms of keeping the ball, Bengaluru had enough players to execute it well, but if they had learnt one thing from last year’s final it was - possession meant nothing. Hence, Bengaluru’s starting move was to push five players up top and placing the long ball on the heads of the central defenders. Their clearance was more often than not under pressure and Bengaluru consequently got the ball high up the field in no time. One more reason to take repeated attempts at it was Chennai’s much-improved ground play from last season, but it was surprising to see Gregory not paying much heed to it. Having players like Augusto and Jerry Lalrinzuala wide of the field, the centre halves should have cleared it onto them to initiate a direct counter.

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