Before the match even kicked-off, Eelco Schattorie lost stand-in captain Robert Lalthlamuana to an already long list of injuries for his side.
Bengaluru FC grabbed the first available spot in the finals of ISL 2018-19 after late second-half goals from Miku, Dimas and Sunil Chhetri gave the Blues a 4-2 win on aggregate against Northeast United FC.
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) March 11, 2019
Watch: Bengaluru FC 3-0 NorthEast United, Goals and Highlights
The Highlanders who looked depleted after injuries to four of their regular starters, never looked threatening in the second leg and finally succumbed to a vibrant Blues. Their resistance was broken by a deft Miku touch, after which Schattorie’s men went in search for a goal that would bring them back only for the team to be pegged further back by counters. Let’s carefully analyse the events that transpired in this tie:
NorthEast United were in control
The first half of the first leg was a testament to Schattorie’s will and NorthEast’s resolve. They took the game to the league leaders playing with confidence and keeping the ball at will. Centre-back duo Janelier Rivas and Mato Grgic made sure Miku did not threaten and Cuadrat’s standard ploy of using Chhetri and Udanta to attack the centre-backs from the wings while Miku drops were nullified by Schattorie’s tactics.
With both the Northeast wingers out of the game, Schattorie began to target the width Bengaluru offered. Nishu Kumar was the full-back who was exploited, with most of NorthEast’s attacks coming through Bengaluru’s left side. It gave the home side the advantage, with Redeem Tlang finding the net after cutting in from the side, which in all honesty, Gurpreet should have stopped. With Leudo dropping in deep to aid the build-up, Borges pushed up curtailing the freedom of the Bengaluru midfielders in the process.
Injuries and refereeing took control
Before the first half got over, a big blow was landed on NorthEast with top-scorer Ogbeche seemingly uncomfortable. He was duly replaced by Mascia, a more ball-oriented player. At the turn of the half, Rowlin Borges, who started the match with a niggle also had to leave. Both of the key players looked likely to miss the second leg also. A change of ends also saw a change in intensity from the away side.
NorthEast also lost Gallego to an injury which heaped further misery
Bengaluru started seeing more of the ball, which rarely seemed to be the case in the first half. However, they were still lacking productivity particularly because of Chhetri’s and Udanta’s lack of involvement.
On the other end, NorthEast were creating decent chances on the counter. Gallego set Mascia free for what looked like a second only for him to be pulled back by Nishu. The referee failed to notice the infringement and Gurpreet collected the loose ball. Another similar shirt pull in the middle of the field, which the referee failed to notice, forced Mascia to turn the ball over to Chhetri who after a quick one-two with Miku, found Xisco in front of the goal for a crucial away goal. NorthEast started pushing for a lead they can take back to Bengaluru and finally got a chance when Mascia was pulled down in the box by Harmanjot Khabra. Guwahati erupted as Mascia converted the resulting penalty.
Carles Cuadrat’s tactical change and Miku’s wastefulness
The second leg was a different story form the first. Northeast, who started with Ogbeche on the bench and Borges out of the squad, lost stand-in captain Robert Lalthamuana during the warm-up. A severely depleted squad got onto the field against the Blues.
Cuadrat having realised that the wingers have become obsolete against Schattorie’s tactics instructed Chhetri and Udanta to play centrally and run in wide, exploiting the space full-backs leave behind when they attack or go to mark. This proved fruitful as both the Indians found space on either side of the center-backs to exploit and to put in threatening balls.
Once the Northeast full-backs started dropping to deal with the threat the Bengaluru full-backs used the space to deliver crosses or drive in. One such cross found Miku whose diving header went just wide. He also missed another sitter, blazing over a cut-back, before hitting a tame shot at Pawan Kumar after brilliantly dodging three defenders. NorthEast, without their two-star players were forced to defend for majority of the game and had to resort to counters to open Bengaluru up.
Mascia had a good chance to open the Highlanders’ account after being put through by Gallego but his shot was saved at the near post by Gurpreet. Chhetri’s and Udanta’s seething runs occupied the NorthEast center-backs and gave Miku lot of space to exploit but the Venezuelan’s wastefulness was a cause for concern.
Triple-trouble as Bengaluru run away
Bengaluru, who looked the most likely to score in the first half started with the same tempo in the second. Nishu Kumar tested the NorthEast keeper with a rasping shot from distance while the NorthEast backline stood firm trying to hold fort. Things went from bad to worse for NorthEast when, Gallego’s shot-stopping tackle on Miku ended up severely injuring the Uruguayan. The midfielder had to be stretchered off, adding to the already burgeoning list of injury concerns for Schattorie.
Juanan, then got a glorious chance to score but his shot from close range went over the bar. With the need for a goal being increasingly important, Cuadrat send in Luisma Villa for center-back Juanan, shifting the system from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2.
Udanta Singh benefitted hugely from Carles Cuadrat’s tactical tweaks
Soon after, Miku found the net, when he got on the end of a peach of a cross, diverting the ball to the far post with a deft-touch. Advantage secured, the Blues defended in numbers and tried to hit Northeast on the counter when the Highlanders pushed forward in search of a goal.
A corner for the away side then set Udanta free, whose pace allowed him to get the better of two NorthEast defenders, with the youngster eventually trying to find the far post. The ball hit the post and bounced back for Dimas whose shot strolled past a wrong-footed Pawan Kumar in goal. Carles then introduced Albert Serran to solidify the defense and switched the system to a 4-4-2. With all players moving forward, Bengaluru had all sorts of spaces to exploit and they added one more in injury time after a one-two with Miku set Sunil Chhetri free. The Indian skipper calmly rounded Pawan Kumar before placing the ball into the net.
The final result does not tell the whole story. Injury-plagued NorthEast stood bravely in front of the mighty Blues before being brushed aside by a ruthless last twenty minutes. The Highlanders and Schattorie have a season to remember and will begin preparations for the Super Cup with extreme optimism. For Cuadrat, careful planning and execution proved to be the masterstroke as he taught his side brilliantly to avoid the mistakes of the first leg. A stern test awaits the Spaniard in Mumbai, where he will aim to better Albert Roca’s achievement.