Atk Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal locked horns for the 370th time in the history of Indian football when they faced off against each other in this round of fixtures in the Hero Indian super league. Referred to as the ‘Boro match’ or the big match in all across the football-loving city of Kolkata, the rivalry between the two clubs is historic and stretches back to 1921 when they first met. 99 years later both the giants of Indian football are at again in the topmost division of the country.
Famous for attracting crowds of more than 100k at the salt lake stadium in Kolkata, the players and fans were visibly gutted that the big derby would be without its main attraction. Nevertheless, fans from both sets of teams have been vocal on the social media platforms and letting the players know how much this game means to them. Robbie Fowler the former Liverpool striker was making his coaching debut in Indian football against the La Liga experienced, two-time ISL winner Antonio Habas.
In this tactical analysis, we see how both the teams set up in their defence and attack and how Robbie Fowler deployed his team’s tactics to dominate the ball against the former champions. In the analysis, we see that Antonio Habas, on the other hand, settled for a much more defensive shape in order to keep another clean sheet after their 1-0 victory over Kerela Blasters in the previous encounter.
Fowler who was the manager of A-league side Brisbane roar last season went with an experienced starting eleven for his first game in charge on Indian soil. Debjit Majumder started in goal, Scott Neville, Fox and Gharami were the three centre-backs deployed in a back three. Narayan Das and Surchandra Singh started out as wing-backs on either flank but often switched to much more defensive positions to make the defensive line a back five rather than a back six. The former Bundesliga midfielder Steinmann was deployed at the base of the midfield and was given the responsibility to dictate the tempo of East Bengal’s attack. The former Norwich City striker Pilkington played on the left of a front three consisting of Balwant Singh through the centre and Maghoma on the right.
East Bengal’s defensive setup
The three centre-backs of East Bengal, Fox, Neville and Gharami were looking to stretch wide to give more passing options in the defensive third of the pitch. The ever-present Steinmann, operating just in front of the centre-backs was a key figure in the East Bengal setup. It was due to his calming presence in the middle of the field that EB were able to complete 521 passes throughout the entirety of 90 minutes as compared to Mohun Bagan’s 241. As seen in the instance above he was always willing to receive the ball and spread it across the park for East Bengal. The centre-backs were tactically aware to either pass the ball to him or play it long into the channels.
During defensive phases, in order to mark the attacking pair of Krishna and Williams of Mohun Bagan, the whole defensive line of East Bengal would often stay very compact and form a cage to contain both the lethal strikers. This led to the opposition full-backs having ample crossing opportunities and Prabir Das even managed to hit the crossbar from a cross from the right-wing in the early stages of the first half.
As the game continued the East Bengal defence started to show signs of fatigue as they were playing their first game of the season, having not played in the previous round of fixtures. This was due to the fact that they were able to join this season’s competition very late and had a relatively smaller preseason at their disposal.
East Bengal going forward
As soon as EB were able to get the ball in the final third, all their three forwards would come really close to each other and look to combine in a short one, two passing moves to release the other. Here in the above instance, we see when the ball played to Maghoma’s feet, he’s aware of the tactics and his teammate’s movement. Pilkington makes excellent stuttering run to stop him from being offside and had he taken on the shot the first time of asking rather than trying to cut inside on his favoured right foot, EB would’ve had another shot on target (they managed to have just 2 shots on target out of attempted 15). This clearly shows that EB did create a few chances and were tactically sound to get into decent positions, but not clinical enough in front of goal.
East Bengal’s pressing system was well organized to prevent Atk from passing through the line, this limited Bagan’s passing completion to only 66% for the entirety of 90 minutes. There was no pressing from the East Bengal forwards on to the Mohun Bagan defenders, they were waiting off for the ball to be played long. McHugh had to drog off in the second half, playing almost like centre-back pairing to Tiri to prevent them from falling for the excellent pressing trap organized by Fowler’s side.
Mohun Bagan’s defensive transition
Whenever Mohun Bagan had to build out from the back, their centre-backs shifted to the byline in quick succession and they looked to play some passes within themselves. Just as the passing sequence would go on McHugh would drop from the midfield line to the defensive third and would look to either of Roy Krishna and David Williams, who were constantly attacking the channels by making runs in between the centre-back and wing-back. They played a total of 55 long balls out of which 27 were successful.
For the entirety of the first half, it felt like Mohun Bagan were hanging on by the skin of their teeth, going into the interval. But a little tactical change Habas brought into the system of Bagan’s play paid off exceptionally well. In the second half, Habas instructed his forward playing midfielders to play the ball back at first touch and then launch balls into the channels for the forwards to run into. This was evident from the multiple efforts the tried to put in. The striker then at the respective side was instructed to bend his run from the outside to the inside to catch defenders flat-footed.
Mohun Bagan’s attacking mindset
This derby fixture was a tough tactical battle between the two coaches and Habas seemed to have done his homework. He deployed his team in a way to maximize the pace and strength of both his forwards- Krishna and Williams. They were neither instructed to play as proper number nines nor as wingers. Rather, Habas played both of them centrally one of the other and attacking through the channels while making runs, this tactical move worked in Habas’ favour and Mohun Bagan were able to grab all three points. They had a total of 3 shots on target and only had 33% possession. But they always looked comfortable with or without the ball, and make no mistake this was not a smash and grab victory for them.
Krishna and Manvir’s night
How many times have we seen players score at will in a league initially but fail to keep that up in the following season? Roy Krishna the Fijian international who scored 15 invaluable goals for ATK last season, seems to have started where he left off. His first goal this season came against the Kerela Blasters, which was enough to give them all three points. If we try and compare the two goals we see that both of them are slight defensive mistakes and Krishna accepts the gifts with open arms.
During this run of play, the ball breaks loose to Krishna, who had been expertly marked by the men in Red & Gold until now, makes shooting space for him and unleashes a left-footed drive that Debjit has no chance of saving.
Manvir Singh, after coming on as a substitute showed determination and desire to chase down a lost cause and as soon as he got past the opposition left-back there’s only one thing in his mind. He cuts on to his weaker left foot and shoots into the corner of the net. Just like that Atk Mohun Bagan had the points sealed.
ATK Mohun Bagan might only have had 33% of the ball for the entirety of the game but at no point of time did they uncomfortable without it. They were tactically drilled in a to sit back, absorb pressure and look for quick breaks whenever possible. Although both the goals came through individual brilliance from Krishna and Manvir, Mohun Bagan managed to hold on to a second clean sheet in as many games. We are still at the early stages of the ISL this season but Atk Mohun Bagan are already looking like the real deal.