Baptism of fire: Challenges Gerard Zaragoza must overcome at Bengaluru FC
The new head coach would be eager to turn things around upon his arrival at Bengaluru FC.
Bengaluru FC appointed Gerard Zaragoza as their new head coach on Thursday, tasking the Spaniard to change their fortunes after a difficult start to the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season.
The Blues currently find themselves ninth in the league table, following recent defeats to Chennaiyin FC and Mumbai City FC. They have only managed to secure one win from their opening ten matches and have faced five defeats.
Zaragoza, who has been given the charge until the end of the 2024-25 season, is already at work and will take charge of the team in their upcoming match against Jamshedpur FC on Saturday.
The new head coach would be eager to turn things around, but before he begins his journey with the Blues, here are the main problems that he needs to address upon his arrival at Bengaluru FC.
Solve out defensive woes
Bengaluru FC have always been known for their defensive stability. Even last season, where they had a similar start to this season, they conceded 23 goals in 20 games. This season, however, they have already conceded 18 goals in just 10 matches from an Expected Goals Against (xGA) of 11.9. At this stage last season, they conceded 12 goals.
The departure of Sandesh Jhingan has drastically affected their defensive display. However, they have mostly played two foreign centre-backs in the starting XI, who have immense experience playing in the ISL and have India’s No.1 goalkeeper under the sticks. Despite that, their defence has been leaky. If Zaragoza has to turn the tides like last season, he has to work his socks off to find stability in the Blues' defence.
Establish a system
To propel Bengaluru FC toward success this season, Zaragoza must not only cultivate a consistent playing style but also meticulously adhere to a well-defined team selection strategy. Such stability has been crucial for past successes and will be the most vital element for future success.
They have made frequent alterations to their formations during Grayson’s tenure, shifting back and forth between a three-man defence and four. However, it is time to find the right balance within the team to establish momentum.
“I'm Catalan. We like the offensive style of football, but it's about momentum. Right now, we need to organise in defence and attack. I don't talk about numbers, because they change during games. I like to play with three in the middle, but sometimes we attack with three at the back, and sometimes it will be with one striker and three or four arriving. We need to dominate the game,” Zaragoza stated in the pre-match press conference ahead of their match against Jamshedpur FC.
"These fans are Bengaluru FC. They are this city. What we saw last week, you don't see in many places. They are the heart of this club." 💙@gerardzaragoza paid tribute to the Blues' faithful ahead of his first game as Head Coach. Watch! 📹#WeAreBFC #Santhoshakke #BFCJFC pic.twitter.com/QoXsedzu2i— Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) December 16, 2023
Discovering Keziah Veendorp’s best role
One player who is undoubtedly eager to prove himself to his new coach is Veendorp. The defensive midfielder has featured in nine matches, accumulating only 514 minutes on the field. The previous head coach favoured two foreign centre-backs, potentially limiting Veendorp's chances in the starting XI, especially with the other two foreigners occupying attacking positions.
Despite these challenges, Veendorp has showcased his prowess, winning possession back in the middle third once every 13.5 minutes in the ongoing ISL season — the fastest rate among all players in the competition who have managed to regain possession in this region at least 10 times. Veendorp has accomplished this feat 38 times so far. Additionally, he has contributed one assist and is versatile enough to operate as a centre-back.
While the season is at its halfway mark, there is ample room for improvement and proving oneself. If Zaragoza pushes the Dutch midfielder and brings out the best in him, the Spanish coach could be richly rewarded.
Zaragoza possesses a clear understanding of the club's expectations and values. With prior experience at the helm, he served as an assistant to Carles Cuadrat, the current head coach of East Bengal FC, during the 2018-19 ISL season. It was a remarkable season for Bengaluru FC as they not only finished on top of the league stage but also clinched the ISL cup by defeating FC Goa.
Despite the current challenges, finishing at the top of the league may prove to be a daunting task for Bengaluru FC. Nevertheless, fans undoubtedly harbour hope for the Blues to stage another comeback this season, securing a spot in the top six and qualifying for the playoffs as they did in the previous season. To achieve this, the Spaniard must foster understanding within the playing squad, maintain a positive atmosphere in the dressing room, and collaborate effectively with his backroom staff.