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I-League 2017 Tactical Analysis: East Bengal Vs Bengaluru FC


With East Bengal and Bengaluru FC set to clash in the season's first heavyweight contest, Khel Now looks at the tactical approach of both teams going into this pivotal tussle...

As East Bengal and Bengaluru FC prepare to face-off this weekend, there are as many similarities between the two teams as there are differences. Trevor Morgan is in his second spell at East Bengal. The Red and Gold are looking for their maiden I-League crown in what could be the competition's final season wih a merger with the cash-rich Indian Super League likely. The Kolkata giants have seven points from three outings, but still have looked unconvincing at the back in all of their games so far.

In Bengaluru FC, they could not have asked for sterner opponents. The reigning champions and AFC Cup finalists from last year are now under the stewardship of Spaniard Albert Roca, who has built on the solid work of his predecessor Ashley Westwood and spectacularly so. The Blues have had a settled squad for some time and have made shrewd additions from the domestic market in the lead up to the new campaign. They come into this game with a perfect record of three wins from three outings and are yet to concede a goal. For Roca though, this will be his first taste of one of contemporary Indian football's defining rivalries.

Both teams have two of the best squads in the country. For East Bengal, this season is a question of needs must in their quest for history, while the Blues are driven by the insatiable appetite to better themselves.

When its all said and done though, this, like any other big game, will come down to the battles within the battle, the finer details, tactical approaches and the inputs from both managers.



How East Bengal Attack
How Bengaluru Defend
With the overlapping duties of the East Bengal wing-backs Rahul Bheke and Narayan Das, one can expect the attacks will come down the flanks, supplied to the right/left attacking midfielders who will link up with the central attacking midfielder (Wedson). The Haitian who has proved himself to be a visionary in the previous matches is expected to link up with the forwards, Plaza and Haokip after dragging the opposition's defensive midfielder (if played) or centre-backs out of position. Haokip, who is expected to start in a deeper role than Willis Plaza against Bengaluru FC will need to deliver the ball upfront to Plaza, but can also go on solo runs himself. The right or left attacking midfielders, who will provide through passes and long balls to Wedson could also go on solo runs up the wing and will provide crosses for the strikers in the opposition box. However, the catch of this formation is that the central attacking midfielder will need to link up well with the forwards throughout the match. The opposition defenders’ primary concern will be to cut off the delivery from Wedson, but with his range of passing the midfielder will back himself to be the team's creative linchpin.

Bengaluru FC have recruited heavily over the summer and mainly in defensive reinforcements. Lenny Rodrigues, Sena Ralte, Harmanjot Khabra and Sandesh Jhingan add to an already formidable team. 

Roca's side defends with two banks of four when they are off the ball. At times when under heavy pressure, Cameron Watson drops deeper almost becoming a third centre-back. Lenny Rodrigues acts as a screen against the opposition's attacking players. 

This tactic allows the full-backs who are expected to spend a significant amount of time in the opposition half to make their way back. 

Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh are expected to drop back into wide midfield positions to guard against the opposition full-backs.

How East Bengal defend
How Bengaluru Attack

The Kolkata giants have put together a star-studded squad, in which at least two players are competing for each position. However, with three out of their four foreign players being forwards, the overall strength of the Red and Gold brigade might have been compromised, but incoming players like Romeo Fernandes and Jackichand Singh have filled in the midfield duties well.

Though East Bengal are more comfortable with five midfielders, the Head Coach Trevor Morgan is expected to deploy any variation of 4-4-2, possibly 4-3-2-1 considering the attacking prowess in his team. Modern Indian full-backs such as Bheke and Narayan Das who prefer to overlap but are quick to track back, will give a certain edge towards the gameplay, as the Kolkata giants do not usually prefer out and out wingers.

The back four of the East Bengal line-up will see a change with Anwar Ali unavailable following a knock in the last game against Churchill Brothers. Gurwinder Singh could step in for him to partner Bukenya at centre-back. The full-backs will retain their places. However, with the overlapping duties of the full-backs in a classic 4-3-1-2, which needs the centre-backs to be fast, will see Bukenya sitting deep alongside Gurwinder Singh, with Rowlin Borges performing a single pivot role to shield the defensive line. Nikhil Poojary and Lalrindika Ralte, who are expected to play as the right and left midfielder respectively will have a gigantic task of attacking as well as tracking back when possession is given away and Bengaluru produce counter-attacks. 

Set-pieces will be difficult for Bengaluru FC in the East Bengal box, courtesy the physical presence of Bukenya who has proved himself difficult to deal with in times of both set-pieces and long balls in the previous matches.


Roca's tweak to Ashley Westwood's system has seen the team attack using a 3-1-3-3 formation. 

The approach requires Khabra and Ralte/Nishu to provide the width with their overlapping runs while Chhetri and Udanta make inside runs into the box. Eugeneson Lyngdoh remains the creative element in this side with his ability to find the killer pass in addition to making late runs into the box. 

With Cameron Watson dropping back into defence, this gives Lenny the license to find the wingers with his impressive range of passing. 

Roca favoured a False 9 system with Daniel Lalhimpuia dropping back into midfield to influence play. However, the Chennai game saw them putting all their men behind the ball to restrict spaces between the lines. 

Vineeth's physical presence up front sees him bringing the wingers into play with his knockdowns and provides a target man for Udanta/Khabra and Chhetri/Ralte with their crosses. 



Strengths –

East Bengal

East Bengal will be relying upon the forward duo of Wedson Anselme and Willis Plaza against the defending champions Bengaluru FC while attacking. Wedson, who has been resourceful while building up the gameplay will have huge expectations on his shoulders. Willis Plaza, who has been a slow starter for Trevor Morgan’s team this season will also play a vital part in success for the Red and Gold. Rowlin Borges, the young midfielder will be crucial against Bengaluru, shielding the back four from counter-attacks. Ivan Bukenya is already being touted as the next Uga Okpara and will bring the much-needed physicality to East Bengal's defense against Bengaluru FC.


Bengaluru FC

While the attacking department has lapped up all the plaudits for the Blues in the first three games having scored 8 goals, the backline is one that is an asset for the men from Bengaluru. The ever-present John Johnson and the gigantic Juanan are pillars of strength in the heart of the defence which has not shipped in any goals so far. Khabra's versatility can see him play anywhere across the defence while Cameron Watson also plays as a pseudo centre-back. 

Weaknesses –

East Bengal

Even with a star-studded team, East Bengal have left themselves vulnerable against pacy teams, such as Bengaluru FC. Bukenya, who is one of EB's biggest strengths was easily manipulated against the fast Aizawl FC forwards in their opening fixture. Other players such as Rowlin Borges and Wedson were also taken advantage of off their slow build-ups. However, with East Bengal’s success depending on Wedson if they deploy a 4-1-3-2 formation, the Haitian will need to deal with former East Bengal captain, Harmanjot Khabra who has been excellent nullifying opponent attackers and shielding the back four this season.

Bengaluru FC

Strong as they are in other areas of the pitch, the left side of defence is one that will surely worry Roca. While Sena Ralte and Nishu Kumar have given a good account of themselves from an offensive standpoint, defensively they have been found wanting. Chennai's Prashanth P and Mumbai FC's Steven Dias found particular joy down this flank and had punted in crosses for their forwards. Juanan and Chhetri were at hand on more than one occasion to provide cover for the left-back. While Chennai and Mumbai were two teams that are settling in with new management and players, East Bengal will offer no such favours to the Blues as they can exploit this chink in the Bengaluru armour. 

East Bengal Key Player: Wedson Anselme
Bengaluru Key Player: John Johnson
The Haitian forward is the most vital piece of the puzzle in Trevor Morgan’s tactics against Bengaluru FC. Wedson’s positional sense, his runs on and off the ball will give East Bengal the much-needed directness against the Blues.  A visionary player, who has an eye for finding gaps in the opposition's defense, he will prove vital in terms of providing Plaza and Haokip with through balls. Wedson’s ability to run directly at the opposition defenders and his skills on the ball will make all the difference East Bengal need against Albert Roca’s men.

The 28-year old Englishman is one of the longest serving members of the Blues since their inception in 2013 and is seen as a natural leader in the team. 

The former Middlesbrough player is one that is not afraid of going in with one of his trademark tackles while posing a credible threat from set-pieces. 

Roca has insisted upon a strong defensive structure in order to implement his attacking plans to perfection and Johnson is a key cog in that structure. 


Published: Fri Jan 20, 2017 07:31 PM IST


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