After getting one point from each of the three consecutive draws, Bengaluru FC were desperate for a win. In the fourth game week of the competition, they faced the two-time champions of ISL Chennaiyin FC. Both the clubs were failing to live up to the expectations of the fans since the start of the campaign, with Chennaiyin at the bottom of the table with just one point and Bengaluru at third-last. The match was a must-win for both as to lay the foundation for qualifying for the play-offs. In this tactical analysis, we will look at Bengaluru’s game plan and strategies. The following analysis will reflect upon Carles Cuadrat’s tactics to beat former Premier League manager John Gregory’s Chennaiyin.
The defending champions featured in a 4-1-4-1 formation, showing glances of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 while attacking. Albert Serran Polo’s injury against Jamshedpur called for Rahul Bheke to play as a centre-back and Harmojot Khabra to move from midfield to the right-back position. Nishu Kumar and Juanan kept their places in defence. Erik Paartalu came into the side for the first time to combine with former MLS player Rafael Augusto and Dimas Delgado in midfield. Manuel Onwu’s absence resulted in Sunil Chhetri leading the line and Ashique Kuruniyan coming onto the left.
Thongkhoseim Haokip replaced Nishu Kumar in the 71st minute. His introduction saw Chhetri moving to the left-wing and Ashique covering for the left-back. Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rino Anto came in to play the last minutes of the game
After failing to score in the first three games, it was important for Chennaiyin to add some threat up front, so they played in their preferred 4-2-3-1. The back-line remained the same as it was against ATK in the 1-0 loss. Edwin Vanspaul, Eli Sabiá, Lucian Goian, and Tondonba Singh made the back four in front of Vishal Kaith. Anirudh Thapa and Dhanpal Ganesh acted as a double pivot with Rafael Crivellaro playing as the No. 10. Nerijus Valskis led the line up front. The only two changes were on the wings as Andre Schembri and Rahim Ali replaced Dragos Firtulescu and Lallianzuala Chhangte in this game.
Eventually, the Firtulescu and Chhagte came in for both the wingers to get fresh legs in the game. Thoi Singh came in for Crivellaro in the 80th minute.
Bengaluru in possession (Attacking)
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is one of the finest goalkeepers in the league in terms of delivering long-range passes. He has the talent to launch balls from one box to the other. This is why on acquiring possession, his head would always go up to find Bengaluru’s furthest player. Out of the 25 passes played by Sandhu, 20 were beyond his defensive third. This shows that Bengaluru wanted to get the ball in the opposition half as quickly as possible.
Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan would look to converge as soon as their goalkeeper got the ball, making a front three with Sunil Chhetri. Although they are relatively shorter than the defenders they faced, their pace was handy in this strategy. Udanta, Ashique, and Chhetri recorded their top speeds at 33.6 Km/h, 33.3 Km/h, and 31.3 Km/h respectively in this match, for instance. This was vital in winning second balls and passes played over the defence line. The three forwards also showed their physical prowess in hold-up play.
Bengaluru used both the flanks actively to progress the ball from behind. They used triangular rotations and space-oriented movements on the wide corridors. To explain it precisely, when Udanta and Ashique tucked in close to Chhetri, they left space close to the touchline. Now that’s the space for the full-backs Kumar and Khabra to run into. In the meantime, Paartalu would drop in pockets between the full-back and centre-back to encourage full-backs to go further. The advantage of this system was that: 1) it maintained their shape in the build-up; 2) these movements made it difficult for Chennaiyin players to track the runners; 3) the team were balanced in defensive transitions.
The tactical ball progression was salient in creating chances for the team. Bengaluru playing in a 4-1-4-1 system had to ensure that the striker was not isolated and left without support. Therefore to balance the numbers ahead, the wingers drew closer to Chhetri by occupying half-spaces, allowing full-backs to provide width in the final third. If the wingers stayed wide then Augusto and Dimas surged higher in half-spaces. By doing this, the team made sure that there were three runners in the box at all times. Having five players in the same horizontal line of final third stretched Chennaiyin’s defensive line, opening spaces between them to exploit.
A key trait to their attack was functional because of their mechanised player movements. They exhibited a simple numerical balancing exercise in the most audacious and chaotic way for Chennaiyin to defend. The only rule to this tactic being, as one player drops in the midfield from the forward line, another player makes a run higher up the field. Time and again they utilised this hoping for a Chennaiyin defender to press the dropping forward as it would create space in behind for another player. As a result, Bengaluru’s pacey attackers made penetrating runs through Chennaiyin’s defence.
In the 83rd minute, Dimas dropped to exchange a one-two with Paartalu while attracting Chennaiyin’s Goian to press. Haokip and Udanta were able to read the situation well and quickly made a move into space behind Goian. A simple lob pass from Paartalu over the line gave Haokip his first goal of the campaign. Bengaluru demonstrated this ‘Velcro Movement’ with such ease and perfection.
Bengaluru out of possession (Defending)
The Blues were formidable in defence. The players worked really hard to defend as a unit as Bengaluru restrained Chennaiyin’s activities in the penalty area. Chennaiyin were not allowed to register a single shot on target in the game.
Against Chennaiyin’s build-up
Chhetri alone led the first line of defence allowing the backline to regroup. His tasks were to diverge the opposition passes in final third and press on the trigger (back pass to goalkeeper) to force a long pass. In the meantime, the team would organise a second line of defence comprising of five midfielders. They patrolled right behind the half-line and followed a position oriented zonal marking. It means the line would shift from side to side, tracking the movement of the ball in order to cover the open space. The midfielder in front of the ball carrier passively pressed him to block vertical passes. The second line of defence was well coordinated and compliant until the ball was in the oppositions’ half.
Defending in own half
Bengaluru defended in a low block which helped in minimising the distance between lines. Despite having a solid second line of defence, Chennaiyin could breach the lines in the centre on certain occasions. In such scenarios, the receiving player was pressed aggressively by the defender marking him. This was done to force a bad touch and to not give him time to turn. The three midfielders collapsed onto the pass to be compact and press collectively. This also helped them take out the nearest supporting player if the receiving player looked to pass the first time. It was because of this speedy response from the midfield trio Paartalu (15), Dimas (14), and Augusto (11), they amassed maximum recoveries for their team in the game.
As Chennaiyin advanced possession through wings, The Blues would commit numbers to create vertical lines. They looked to create overloads on the wings to limit the oppositions’ options. If the ball progressed from the left, the LCM and CDM would align vertically finding substantial cover from the RCM. Numerous vertical lines helped in blocking Chennaiyin’s switch of play as it trapped them on the flanks and increased horizontal compactness. Again the contribution from the midfield trio and constant persistence from the players to get into positions was crucial to work out this strategy.
Defending specific to opposition
Ashique Kuruniyan deserves more plaudits for his defensive contribution than his offensive work. Schembri played centrally for Chennaiyin when they had possession, doubling on Bengaluru’s backline with Valskis. They pinned Kumar, Juanan, and Bheke in the centre by doing this. Crivellaro’s free role called for constant defensive attention Paartalu. Because of this, they pinned the backline and Paartalu had to prioritise covering central regions. This change of shape in attack allowed Vanspaul to occupy the right wing in the attack. Ashique worked hard to stay in front of him and nullify the threat from Vanspaul. He contested in nine defensive duels and won seven of them, making him best in his team. His work-rate enabled creating a back five when needed and defensive cover for pressing defenders.
Defence to attack
As we discussed before, Bengaluru’s backline pressed the attacking Chennaiyin player when they were about to receive the ball. Due to this, the midfield trio regained maximum possession. On winning the ball in the defensive third, their instantaneous reaction was to play it back to the defence line to see off the pressure. Then the defender tried to play through the space created by Chennaiyin’s pressing midfield. This eventually helped in changing the focal point of attack and retaining possession.
If the player won possession in the midfield third, then Bengaluru were more direct. It was to use the pace of the forwards while giving minimum time for the opposition defence to reorganise. Chhetri scored the second goal for the team from a transition play. As Chhetri ran through the channel, a first-time ball over the top defence was met by an accurate shot on a half-volley. Augusto assisted India’s ‘Captain Fantastic’ in scoring his fifth goal in six games against Chennaiyin.
Attack to defence
The defensive transition duties were varied as per the line. The forward line was tasked to recover and put pressure on the ball carrier from behind. The ball-near midfielders had a composed role. They had to stand their ground still and block the passing lanes. They didn’t press instead tried to anticipate the next pass. The rest of the defence had the most aggressive job having to press the forward receiving the vertical pass. Chennaiyin struggled to progress the ball because of this and lost possession in transitions.
Bengaluru’s high intensity of football in the first quarter of the game had put Chennaiyin on the back foot after conceding multiple set-pieces. Cuadrat’s men made the most of it even from the throw-ins. Rahul Bheke took charge of throw-ins on the right flank in the first half. He delivered long and loopy balls into the box as he was sure of Paartalu and Juanan asserting their aerial dominance. The team also showed variations in throw-in patterns to not be predictable. They took advantage of no offside rule in throw-ins to behind the defence and gather the ball in space. Bheke also surprised the opposition by playing a short throw to his right-back who then delivered a cross from the deep position for Chhetri to head.
The Blues were building their momentum through set-pieces. Chennaiyin failed to see the signs from the early throw-ins as to what threat Paartalu and Juanan possessed in the box. They stuck to their zonal marking in set-pieces which cost them a goal. Paartalu was totally unmarked during the corner taken in the 13th minute. All he had to do to score the goal was to drift in space between Chennaiyin’s Valskis and Sabiá. The former A-League midfielder gave an early lead to his team. Bengaluru played eight key passes in the first half of which two came from corners and four came from throw-ins.
Chennaiyin under Gregory scored 47% of their goals (22) from set-pieces. Bengaluru were well cautioned and therefore scarcely conceded free-kicks in their defensive half. They committed nine players in the defensive line to deal with free-kicks. Chennaiyin were equally dangerous in throw-ins and took every chance to deliver a direct throw in the box.
In corners, Bengaluru defended with four players guarding the six-yard box and four players outside it man-marking the opposition. Despite the best efforts from Bengaluru, Ganesh got Chennaiyin closest to scoring a goal from the corner after hitting the post in 82nd minute.
The Blues dominated in all parts of the game and were always under control. Their defensive solidity was at their prime while the experienced midfield ensemble established their superiority on the field. This defeat for Chennaiyin was a final wake-up call for the team.