The Red and Gold midfielders were outwitted by Chennai City in their last outing.
East Bengal’s fairy-tale start ended on a bitter note after they were ousted by Chennai City FC at home. The current league-leaders showed no fear in handing the Red and Gold Brigaders their first loss of the season in their inaugural home game.
With an impressive 25,000 audience cheering on in a usual loud manner, Alejandro Menendez’s side was silenced on the pitch. Chennai dominated the game, brushing away East Bengal’s pressure with ease. The astute Akbar Nawas outwitted the Kolkata-side and give them a stern lesson on the beautiful, fluid Spanish style of football which is expected from their own Spanish gaffer.
While East Bengal were disappointing in many areas on the day, they were most lacking in the midfield area. Menendez persisted with a two-man midfield pivot of Kamalpreet Singh and Lalrindika Ralte, two players not entirely comfortable in those roles.
After losing crucial midfielders Md Rafique and Cavin Lobo to the ISL, they’ve failed to bring in appropriate replacements. Kassim Aidara and Mahmoud Al Amna being unfavored in Menendez’s system don’t help their case.
Lalrindika Ralte was often outsmarted by Chennai City midfielders
The duo of Kamalpreet and Ralte managed to scrape through in East Bengal’s away wins against NEROCA FC and Shillong Lajong, but were found out by Chennai’s intelligent midfielders. Akbar Nawas’ also fielded a midfield pivot of two, but Sando Rodriguez often came deep to enable his midfielders to create a 3-on-2 situation in the middle. Chennai’s clever distribution helped them dominate the game with 57% possession and 15 shots on goal, leaving East Bengal scratching their heads.
Kamalpreet might be a versatile player, but he’s not intelligent enough to operate as a defensive midfielder. He doesn’t possess the calmness and concentration for an anchor, which was proved in East Bengal’s loss. Kamalpreet was outwitted by the Spanish midfielders, who often forced him out of his position and created gaps in East Bengal’s final third.
Ralte isn’t defensively strong either and relied on aggression to stop Chennai from fluidly maintaining possession. It was his reckless challenge which unfortunately awarded the away side the free-kick which was expertly scored by Sando Rodriguez. After that, East Bengal’s midfield was found out on numerous occasions and was broken open for Pravitto Raju to earn the decisive penalty for the away side.
If not anything else, the loss proved how East Bengal are far from being the perfect unit under Alejandro Menendez. The Spanish tactician is trying his best with limited resources, but immediately needs reinforcements. With news of the Red and Gold Brigade’s transfer ban uplifted by the AIFF, they need to bring in quality midfielders as soon as possible.
For their missing sixth foreigner, a versatile yet reliable central midfielder would be a welcome sight for the fans. They need someone who can hold down the fort and make things easier for their Spanish duo at the back. Former Bengaluru FC midfielder Toni Dovale’s name has come up, but it’ll be difficult for East Bengal to sign him now that he’s contracted to another club.
Dovale, if signed, can bring the missing creativity in Bengal’s midfield and also provide some steel, which their midfield is lacking. However, the Spaniard wouldn’t be the only midfielder they’re going to be eying.
One of Aidara and Amna, if not both, could also be replaced come January. Menendez must want immediate reinforcements to evolve his frail midfield into a stronger, more reliable core. However, East Bengal also needs to sign players who can adapt to Menendez’s system very fast. The games are going to arrive thick and fast for the Red and Gold Brigaders in December.
They play five games in the festive month, four of which are home games. Amidst that is a much-anticipated Kolkata Derby against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan. Not only do they have to win that game to prove a point, but they need to get maximum points from those games to sustain a proper title challenge to the runaways Chennai City FC.
However, if Alejandro persists with a make-shift midfield and cagey football, they could face more bitter disappointment at home. East Bengal’s vulnerability has been pinpointed to opponents after their loss to Chennai and everyone will look to pressurize their little weak-point in upcoming games.
The heat will be on The Red and Gold Brigade midfielders to solidify their performance level. It’s well and good if they can do that. However, if their midfield continues to struggle under pressure, it could lead to more crucial points being dropped in the next matches. More lost points could be disastrous and deal another fatal blow to what can be their final charge for the I-league title before a proposed move to the Indian Super League next season.