Erik Paartalu – The ace up Bengaluru’s sleeve

Even though Bengaluru FC lost him for a considerable period of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 season, Miku’s importance to the Blues was well documented throughout the course of those seven months. Besides scoring and laying off numerous assists, the now-departed Venezuelan forward also helped get the best out of those around him and captain Sunil Chhetri especially enjoyed the benefit of operating in tandem with the forward.

A similar trend looks to be taking shape this season as well, with Australian midfielder, Erik Paartalu taking over the mantle of being one of, if not the most, crucial piece in the Bengaluru puzzle. The Blues were without the services of the 33-year-old in the first three matches of Hero ISL 2019-20 and failed to strike the right balance between defence and attack. Carles Cuadrat’s men scored just a single goal in those three games, lacking both in intensity and quick transitions.

The 6-foot 3-inch midfielder changed all that when he made his comeback from a prolonged spell on the sidelines in the club’s fourth match of the ongoing season against Chennaiyin. He immediately made the kind of impact expected of key players to certain philosophies.

Playing in a midfield pivot with Dimas Delgado, Paartalu opened the scoring against Chennaiyin with a terrific header in the 14th minute before providing the assist for Semboi Haokip’s goal late in the second half. The Australian dominated the midfield, set the tempo and restricted Chennaiyin’s attacks. The midfielder had an 85% passing accuracy, created four chances and had two interceptions as well as two blocks to his name by the end of the game.

The improvement in Delgado’s performance was also a direct consequence of Paartalu’s inclusion in the side. In the Australian’s absence, the 36-year-old Spaniard was asked to operate a bit deeper in midfield, which hindered his game and curbed his attacking instincts. Against the Marina Machans, though, Delgado had the freedom of the park and created four chances, which is more than he had done in Bengaluru’s previous three matches combined.

After that fixture, Cuadrat, who at the start of the season expressed Paartalu’s importance to his side, pointed at the exact qualities that make the 33-year-old a vital cog for Bengaluru. Cuadrat said, “Paartalu is an impactful player because of his attitude and his heading ability. I’m very happy he scored on his return because he is a very hard worker. He has not played for almost nine months because of his injury last season, so it’s great that he is with us again.”

The threat from set-pieces is just another dimension to Paartalu’s staggering all-round game. The midfielder has a tremendous ability of reading the game and is equally good when it comes to spraying out decisive passes. Last season, the Blues had an immaculate record with the Australian in their side, losing just twice in 14 matches, including a stunning 11-match unbeaten run. While the same sort of run will be tough to replicate, Cuadrat and Co. will hardly consider it impossible now that Paartalu is back.

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