The Blues went from fighting on two fronts to ending the season trophyless in the blink of an eye.
Bengaluru FC, the defending champions of the Indian Super League were ousted out of the competition in the semi-final against ATK. Despite having attained a one-goal advantage in the first leg at home, the Blues failed to capitalize on it and meekly surrendered to a vibrant performance from Antonio Habas’ team.
The Blues have always had an aura surrounding them. They have one of the most vigorous fanbases among all the teams in the league to back them. They have the best Indian player leading them upfront. It is not easy to be boisterous about your performances in a nascent competition such as the ISL. Yet, Bengaluru FC have managed to develop that pride and vanity which makes them quite an intimidating team to come up against.
However, this reputation was dented in the past couple of weeks or so; serving the team a timely reminder that they have new, equally-potent competitors up and rising in the competition. ATK completely decimated Carles Cuadrat’s men with the duo of David Williams and Roy Krishna registering their names on the scoresheet.
It can in some ways be seen as a culmination, a result that was always coming for Bengaluru FC.
Unlike the 2018-19 season when Bengaluru were possibly the best team to take part in the competition, this time around their performances could be seen taking a significant dip. They struggled to find the back of the net consistently. The side scored 24 goals from 20 matches in the entirety of the campaign, which is a decent number but still an underwhelming one considering the plethora of attacking talent they have at their disposal. The backline compensated for the lack of attacking bite by conceding only 16 goals throughout the term.
However, 14 out of 24 goals for Bengaluru FC came through set-pieces with the midfield duo of Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu playing vital roles in this process. Cuadrat’s team’s proficiency from dead-ball scenarios made them unique to an extent, as there was always a sense of unpredictability regarding how they would react whenever they received any such opportunity in a promising position.
However, with time, opposition teams started gaining a hold on how to put a stop to the Blues’ consistent ability to come out triumphant from these circumstances. Also, this tendency to score goals through set-pieces came at the cost of incisiveness from open play and hence, it gradually became more convenient to find a way to restrict Carles Cuadrat’s men. ATK didn’t let Bengaluru FC convert any of their free-kicks or corners into goals throughout the two legs and the unfortunate outcome eventually was there to be witnessed for all.
Bengaluru lured in Ashique Kuruniyan ahead of the season. Ashique is one of the more prominent Indian wingers/forwards from the younger lot of Indian players. Yet, he was played in a more restrained left wing-back role for the better part of the campaign. To make such a high-profile move for a remarkable Indian talent and the subsequent failure to play him in his strongest position shows indecisiveness and a poor approach by the head coach and the management.
The Blues have been hailed as an ideal club in terms of the backdoor functioning and the work that goes into the transfers that they opt for. However, the dilemma around their primary foreign striker slot is baffling. Michael Onwu couldn’t score a goal for the love of money in the six games that he represented Bengaluru in. However, once the Spaniard shifted to Odisha FC in January, he bagged seven goals in four matches. What explains this sudden upsurge in his form? What held back his natural goalscoring instinct during his time in Bengaluru?
The club aimed to compensate for this drawback by bringing in the Jamaican strike duo of Deshorn Brown and Kevaughn Frater midway through the season. Brown scored seven goals and is on a one and a half year long deal, which makes his inclusion laudable and necessary for the foreseeable future at least. However, to rope in a relatively lesser known Frater just for the remainder of the campaign all the way from the other side of the world puts forth a few puzzling questions.
In a league where most offshore strikers require a sizable time to get acclimatized with the dynamics and the demands, it is unclear what role the club expected the forward to play in his extremely minuscule tenure with the club.
Otherwise too, the team had put up some disappointing performances this season. The two losses against Mumbai City FC didn’t bode well for a team of BFC’s stature, but still the Islanders had managed to win six points against Sunil Chhetri and Co.
There was inconsistency in terms of results for Bengaluru FC over the stretch of the season, but an overwhelming belief existed that the superlative talent they possessed would easily put them above others in contention for qualification to the playoffs. However, once the semi-finals arrived, there were not many second chances and hence the deficiencies that the team had hidden were bound to show up glaringly.
What didn’t help the Blues either was the steep decline in the outings and confidence of the team over the past few weeks. They finished their league run with only two points from their last three matches, being able to score only thrice in those games. Kerala Blasters trumped them for a 2-1 victory, whilst the draws against Chennaiyin FC and ATK came in the midst of a series of AFC Cup qualifying playoff encounters against teams from Bhutan and the Maldives.
In a season when FC Goa secured a spot in the AFC Champions League by finishing as the league-leaders, Bengaluru FC would have been hoping to put up an inspiring performance in the AFC Cup at least. However, what followed was a defeat against Maldivian club Maziya S&RC on penalties. More strikingly, Bengaluru FC were defeated by Maziya in the away fixture in which Cuadrat played a weakened lineup. Maybe the team got confidence from the overwhelming 9-1 victory against Paro FC in the AFC Cup match played before this one.
However, to take such risks on the continental stage does not bode well for one of the top Indian football clubs in the modern era. In this process, they underestimated Maziya’s ability and the Maldivian club made Bengaluru FC pay the price for the same by putting in a steely, determined performance on their home patch.
The club’s forever supportive CEO, Parth Jindal, expressed his displeasure on Twitter over his club’s loss and the subsequent exit from the continent. It could be seen as a sign of things to come for the club in the near future, with them going in for an overhaul of sorts after a successful six years since their inception.
Unlike the other Spanish coaches in the league, Cuadrat has implemented a rather pragmatic philosophy on display for Bengaluru FC.
Cuadrat has managed to attain silverware through his footballing ideology, the changing dynamics of the competition suggest that the shelf-life of a more conservative brand of football reaping success is reducing. Jorge Costa’s Mumbai City FC are another example of the same, as the club that finished the previous season in third spot were unable to qualify for the semi-finals this time around and steadily the team’s approach became more predictable for their adversaries.