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Five things we learned from NorthEast United's win over Bengaluru in ISL playoff first leg

Written by: Ajay A K

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The game provided much in the way of incident and controversy as well as a lot to ponder on for both teams going into the next game.

In their first-ever playoff appearance, NorthEast United triumphed over last season’s finalists Bengaluru FC, thanks to a penalty in injury-time converted by Juan Mascia. The late goal gave the Highlanders the lead after Xisco Hernandez canceled out Redeem Tlang’s opening goal.

Watch: NorthEast United 2-1 Bengaluru, Goals and Highlights

The match also saw two injury-based substitutions for the home side, with Bartholomew Ogbeche leaving the field before the end of the first half and Rowlin Borges substituted at the turn of the half.  The eventful game has given hope for the Highlanders, while the Blues will head back home with tactics to work on. Here are some of the key things we learned:

5. Janeiler Rivas’ physicality the ideal combatant for the efficient Miku

The Colombian defender was signed by the Highlanders after their first-choice centre-back Mislav Komorski got injured in February. He looks to have adapted to Eelco Schattorie’s style of play, establishing himself as a calm and composed operator with the ball. He finished the match with a passing accuracy of 96%.

However, the former Millionarios defender’s physical presence also helped Schattorie to deal with the threat of Bengaluru’s clinical finisher Miku. The tall defender kept the Venezuelan quiet during the game, countering the striker’s physicality with his imposing frame. Miku, whose presence usually warrants the attention of more than one defender, failed to get involved in the game for long stretches. The battle between the two South Americans in the second leg has the potential to be entertaining and could also end up being game-changing.

4. Bengaluru’s left side looks weak and exploitable

If there was one aspect of the NorthEast attack that stood out, it was their targeted approach. Most of their attacks came through their right side or Bengaluru’s left. The Blues’ left wing looked far from solid as there were numerous gaps open, particularly because of Sunil Chhetri’s offensive role.

Nishu Kumar was visibly uncomfortable with the load on his side of the field and as a result, the Highlanders’ opening goal came from the Blues' left side. This would be something that Carles Cuadrat would keep in his mind and will look to address when his side prepares for the home leg in Bengaluru.


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3. Versatility within the Bengaluru squad could prove to be a game-changing factor in the second leg

Bengaluru’s biggest strength lies in their ability to adapt. The side have shown a knack to seamlessly transition according to the opposition and one key facilitator for this has been the versatility within the squad. Rahul Bheke played at right-back for the majority of the game and when the Blues needed another foreigner upfront, the Mumbai-born lad switched seamlessly to the center-back position while central midfielder Harmanjot Khabra moved to right-back.

Chhetri has shown an uncanny ability to switch from a second striker to a winger when needed and Dimas Delgado also put in shifts as both defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder. This versatility has been a vital component in the attitude and tenacity the squad express and was what which eventually led to the equalizer.

2. NorthEast United's attack needs to step up in the absence of Ogbeche and Borges

NorthEast United’s need for an offensive boost is slowly turning out to be paramount. Tlang scored his first goal this season in the first leg, turning out to be their fifth goalscorer in the league. Schattorie’s men have the worst offensive record amongst teams that have entered the playoffs and the events of the game have not offered much help.

Ogbeche and Borges, both of whom are part of the five goalscorers, had to leave injured in the middle of the match. The Highlanders’ attack had looked formidable till then but dwindled down in the later stages with the absence of their two key players.

If the injuries are serious, they will need a valiant response from the attacking unit. Juan Mascia, despite having scored for the club, looks to be just a shadow compared to the menacing presence of Ogbeche. He, along with Tlang, Lalthathanga Khawlhring and Nikhil Kadam will need to step up and fill the void left by the duo.

1. NorthEast United tactically prevented Udanta Singh and Chhetri from getting involved

One striking aspect of the Highlanders' display was the ease with which they removed two of the opposition’s main offensive influencers from the equation. Chhetri and Udanta Singh looked invisible for the majority of the game. The two Bengaluru wingers failed to cause the usual havoc and were dealt with efficiently by the NorthEast defence. The Indian captain, however, managed to pull himself back into the game to provide the assist for the equalizer, but he finished the match with just 25 touches in total, which is 37.5% lower than his league average of 40 touches/game.

Udanta Singh also failed to utilize his pace and skill and this affected the Bengaluru attack very badly, especially in the first half. With Schattorie likely to adopt a similar tactical approach, Cuadrat needs to come up with a counter to involve Chhetri and Udanta more.

Published: Fri Mar 08, 2019 02:47 PM IST

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