The reigning I-League champions are on the back of a torrid week in top flight as they head into a crucial AFC Champions League Qualifier against Jordanian club Al Wehdat…
If one would have seen Bengaluru FC’s first three games of the I-League, it would have looked as if the southerners would have blown away their rivals in the league for the title. However, the next two games away to East Bengal and Churchill Brothers proved to be their undoing as Albert Roca’s men sank to two crushing defeats.
It will prompt the Spanish coach to go back to the drawing board yet again and assess what went wrong before they face Al Wehdat in an AFC Champions League qualifier on Tuesday. While Roca has hinted that he would rotate the squad owing to the sheer number of games that his side would play this season, he has not fully stuck to that promise.
The likes of Sunil Chhetri, John Johnson and Eugeneson Lyngdoh are pilars of this Bengaluru side. But it would benefit them and the team if they were given a breather to keep them fresh for crucial games like the ones against East Bengal and Churchill. The Steelmen have recruited heavily with Mandar Rao Desai, Lenny Rodrigues, Sandesh Jhingan, Harmanjot Khabra, Sena Ralte and Roby Norales joining the squad. With such impressive depth for each position, it would have made sense for Roca to give his regulars a rest while giving the other squad players a chance.
While Khabra and Lenny have seamlessly integrated into the first team, it has not yet been the case for the others. Sena Ralte and Nishu Kumar have given their auditions at left-back and while they offer a threat on the offensive front, they have been often exposed from a defensive standpoint. They have had to be rescued by timely interventions from Juanan and Chhetri who has had to track back a long way.
Roca is still find his feet in Indian football.
With three clean sheets prior to facing East Bengal, the Bengaluru defence was in good hands despite the weak link at left-back. Roca’s 3-1-4-2 shape going forward leaves the central defenders to cover a lot of ground on the flanks as the full-backs race back to their defensive stations. A lightning quick counter can expose the gaps between the centre-backs which is exactly what East Bengal did for their winner.
Udanta Singh and Chhetri are doing a fine job helping their full-backs in defensive duties, but Roca must understand that Chhetri is 32 and his energy needs to be used more from an attacking standpoint as he still remains the player that can change the game with moments of magic.
One could say that a sense of complacency could have slid into the team’s ranks after the success in the first three games. The dual defeat has put the reigning I-League champions in a position where they would have to start from scratch before they take the pitch in Jordan. Fans and critics may point out that this would be the worst possible time for Bengaluru to play in a crucial AFC Champions League Qualifier given their form in the league.
But, the club may look at this game as a welcome distraction from after poor performances in the I-League. Roca will no doubt push his troops to the absolute limit to ensure that the defensive mistakes that cost them the games at Kolkata and Goa are not repeated in Jordan. A strong performance in this game could see the Blues returning to domestic duties in a more positive frame of mind.
The Garden City club will also be buoyed by the fact that they had shattered expectations by making the AFC Cup Final last year and the confidence to compete at the continental level is definitely there. This game could define how the rest of Bengaluru’s season progresses and will be one that Roca and his men will not look to take lightly.