ISL 2020-21: Porous backline a malaise that let down Carles Cuadrat –

Much of the talk has been about Bengaluru’s insipid attack; A closer look reveals that their defence has been equally shaky, as per OptaJeev stats

In almost every press conference Carles Cuadrat would have been bombed by a few repetitive questions- why are Bengaluru not being able to score that many from open play? Do you think the new foreign signings in attack are doing enough? or, why is the conversion rate so poor? 

Cuadrat calmly took those in his stride and would always defend his players, be it Cleiton Silva, Kristian Opseth or for that matter Deshorn Brown. After drawing a blank against , the coach reasoned, “We create chances with Sunil (Chhetri), Cleiton (Silva) and the number nines are doing their job, getting the space for the wingers.  We have more players in our squad who can provide us with goals.” 

And before facing Mumbai when he was quizzed on the same issue, he replied,” When you score, you’re closer to score again because you force the other team to go out. If you see the last game, we were really creating a lot of chances in the other game and there was space for our players. We also have to be better not to concede because you lose two games 1-0. When you concede you can lose. The guys understand that and are working very positively.” 

While many were missing the forest for the trees, the second part of Cuadrat’s answer hit the nail on the head. Bengaluru need to get better defensively to win more points. 

The Blues have conceded 12 goals this season in nine matches, whereas in the previous campaign they had let in only five after playing an equal number of games. They boasted of six clean sheets in nine matches in 2019-20, whereas they have managed only two in the ongoing edition. 

Pratik Chaudhari has partnered Juanan at the heart of defence and it is amply clear that the duo needs to fine-tune their frequency. Injuries at the start of the season to Rahul Bheke and Ashique Kuruniyan have further complicated matters for the former ISL () champions. 

Against , both Chaudhari and Harmanjot Khabra were guilty of not closing down David Williams quick enough, which allowed the Aussie to glide inside, make space and pull the trigger. Whereas, in the next match Juanan allowed Jamshedpur’s Stephen Eze to get ahead of him and nod in the header which turned out to be the eventual winner. 

Their defending from set-pieces have also not been up to the mark. Eze’s goal stemmed from the second phase of a free-kick whereas, against , two of the three goals were from flag-kicks. While Gurpreet Sandhu’s howler might be the primary reason for the third goal, one cannot look away from the shoddy marking during dead-ball situations. Both Fran Gonzalez and Juanan were behind the striker as Bartholomew Ogbeche hung in the air to unleash a powerful header. Fundamental errors and individual mistakes have come to the forefront time and again for the defensive lapses.

Talking of individual errors, Sandhu also has to shoulder his fair share of the blame. His save percentage in the previous season was at a staggering high of 80 per cent, while in the ongoing edition it has fallen to 63.6 per cent. 

In a nutshell, the entire defending unit has taken a beating this season. To further put things into perspective, they have been dribbled past on more occasions (48 to 61 times), conceded more shots on target (25 to 33), whereas the tackle success rate (67.7 per cent to 62.2 per cent) has gone down. 

But has the management taken the right step by showing the door to Cuadrat? Well, this might be a tricky question to answer. 

The recent results and more importantly the lacklustre style of play are a testament that Bengaluru have lacked cohesion on the pitch. But one has to keep in mind that most teams have not had a regular pre-season due to the Coronavirus pandemic including the Eagles. Their foreigners also arrived late and it is commonplace for a striker to take sometime before settling down in new surroundings. 

Moreover, their next six fixtures are against teams who are below them in the table. In fact, their next formidable opponent happens to be ATK Mohun Bagan on February 9. A little patience and a bit more trust, which are albeit rare in world football nowadays, on the ISL winning manager, might have done the trick. 

Note: The stats used in this article have been taken from OptaJeev