Bengaluru FC's irresistible attacking force meets a structured fortification in Jamshedpur FC

Till a few weeks ago, Bengaluru FC were struggling to make a mark in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL). They were trying to implement their manager Marco Pezzaiuoli’s philosophy but were committing errors that was undermining the good work they were doing elsewhere.

Jamshedpur FC, meanwhile, were faring comparatively better under Owen Coyle. They, like most other Hero ISL outfits this season, weren’t pulling away at the perch of the table but weren’t doing a lot wrong either, meaning that they were always a tough proposition to tackle, irrespective of the opposition.

During those sequences, what stuck out for the Men of Steel was their inability to keep things tight at the back. They were shuffling personnel, trying out different defensive methods but weren’t able to zero in on a sustainable formula. They were still scoring enough goals and were finding ways to win games of football. But for Coyle, who prides himself on his teams’ organization, something felt amiss.

Bengaluru FC, on the other hand, were having problems making the net bulge. Sunil Chhetri, who has often been their guardian angel, was firing blanks, missing penalties and spurning gilt-edged opportunities.

Also Read: Sunil Chhetri may be down, but he's definitely not out

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was also looking shaky at the back, while Bruno Ramires and Suresh Singh Wangjam weren’t contributing much offensively. None of Cleiton Silva, Prince Ibara or Udanta Singh grabbing games by the scruff of their necks either. 

And then, like it often happens with top-class outfits, something started to click. Chhetri began scoring and creating opportunities for Bengaluru FC, Udanta rediscovered his mojo, Ibara made a nuisance of himself whenever he took the field, and their midfield started dominated games like they were always meant to.

For Jamshedpur FC, the clean sheets began to pile up. The organization, which felt amiss at the start of the campaign, started running through their veins and their defensive structure, which was frantic at times earlier in the season, began looking much better.

In the process, both teams have, before their encounter on Saturday, stitched together their best respective run of results. While the Blues have scored 13 goals in their six most recent Hero ISL fixtures (winning four of those), the Men of Steel have only shipped 4 goals in their last six matches.

If the season’s overall numbers are considered, Bengaluru FC are the joint second-highest goal-scoring team in the Hero ISL. While they have played more games than ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC, a tally of 24 goals in 14 games shouldn’t be scoffed at.

Apart from that, there is increased fluidity in the Blues’ ranks. The ploy to deploy Chhetri, Ibara and Udanta has worked wonders. With Ibara in the mix, Chhetri and Udanta are able to utilize the space that the striker has created. There is also an inclination to play the ball forward quicker – something that wasn’t happening earlier and was restricting the impact of their flair players.

Now, Bruno and Suresh aren’t just looking to retain possession. They are trying to utilize counter-attacking situations, with their full-backs also joining in. Roshan Singh Naorem, in particular, has been a menace for most oppositions in the Hero ISL and has the most assists for any Indian this campaign.  

The offensive impetus has also allowed them to control matches a lot more. In fact, it isn’t a coincidence that the Blues have kept all of their clean sheets during this patch – the first was against Jamshedpur FC too.

   

The Men of Steel have gone in the other direction, although that hasn’t necessarily translated into a downturn in fortunes. If anything, their new-found solidity has allowed them to not be at their best in the attacking third and still grind out crucial victories.

Two of their three victories in 2022 have come via that avenue. While Daniel Chukwu scored the winner against FC Goa, Ishan Pandita converted his chance to put the game beyond SC East Bengal. Both games, by the way, ended 1-0 in Jamshedpur FC’s favour.

In addition, there seems to be more compactness in their midfield. They aren’t getting overrun in transitional situations, with Alex Lima and Jitendra Singh playing starring roles. Boris Singh, Chukwu, Greg Stewart, Jordan Murray, and Seiminlen Doungel have also done exceedingly well to apply pressure from the front.

Thus, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Jamshedpur FC are arguably the most defensively-drilled side in the Hero ISL at the moment. Similarly, not many (Hyderabad FC probably) have been able to rival the Blues’ scoring exploits in recent weeks.

Also Read: Of grit, fight, and a bit of grace, Owen Coyle's Jamshedpur FC find their own recipe of success

In many ways, this is a clash between an irresistible attacking force (Bengaluru FC) and a structured fortification (Jamshedpur FC). Till a couple of months ago, that thought seemed ludicrous and had anyone preached that idea, they would’ve been laughed at.

That alone tells you how quickly and decisively both teams have turned a corner. And, of course, why they are continually being touted as worthy top four contenders.

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