Tactically flexible East Bengal FC slowly warming up to Stephen Constantine’s ways

Two wins from six games don’t make great reading but if you consider the build-up to East Bengal’s season and their history in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), then picking up six points from as many games is a mark of progress which is also their best start in their short ISL history.

A team that managed just one win last season has already doubled that tally in just one-third of the new season and there are signs that the Red and Gold brigade may only get better. 

Tactically flexible

The Kolkata giants have had to build the squad from scratch once again ahead of the new season but this time, they had the experience of head coach Stephen Constantine to fall back on. 

The English head coach has led the Indian national team in two separate stints and knows Indian football in and out. So despite losing four of their six games so far this season, East Bengal FC have looked a lot more competitive than in previous seasons. 

Constantine’s knowledge of the Indian players and his know-how of grinding out results in the Indian football environment has been on show already. 

“Having a manager that knows Indian football so well has given them a huge advantage in setting up differently for each and every game they have played,” former Bengaluru FC midfielder and Hero ISL expert Erik Paartalu analysed. 

“We've seen multiple tactics from Constantine already. Sitting in at home and hitting on the counter-attack and also going and bossing the boys in blue in Bangalore from a much higher up position on the field. The tweaks in tactics make East Bengal FC unpredictable,” he added.

Improving defence

East Bengal FC are slowly beginning to display signs of a typical Constantine team which is usually very difficult to beat and builds its foundation on a solid defence. 

The Red and Golds may have conceded nine goals so far this season but the underlying numbers show the defence has improved with every passing game. 

Match

Goals conceded

Shots faced

Shots on target faced

Shots faced from inside the box

Kerala Blasters FC (A)

3

22

10

13

FC Goa (H)

2

18

5

10

NorthEast United FC (A)

1

18

3

9

ATK Mohun Bagan (A)

2

18

5

9

Chennaiyin FC (H)

1

13

3

9

Bengaluru FC (A)

0

10

1

5

Ivan Gonzalez, who is the leader of the pack took some time to settle into his role with his new team but is now displaying all the qualities that made him one of the best defenders in Hero ISL at FC Goa. 

“I think he's been consistent, which is something I like and I demand players to be consistent week in and week out. He's a captain, He's a leader and he has been solid,” Constantine said of his centre-back ahead of the match against Odisha FC. 

Another standout player for the Red and Golds in defence has been young Lalchungnunga who was added to their set-up ahead of the new season. The youngster has delivered performances of the level expected from a senior professional. 

“I like Chungnunga, if we weren't obsessed with goals here, I'd have him as the Emerging Player already. If you watch him closely he is making all the right noises. Timing of tackles, tidy on the ball, big and physical in the aerial duels, as a defender there hasn't been someone as exciting in this country since Sandesh Jhingan,” Paartalu said. 

Talisman Cleiton Silva

However, the clear and big difference-maker for East Bengal FC has been Cleiton Silva who has scored three goals for the team this season and is just one goal away from becoming the club’s joint all-time leading goalscorer in Hero ISL. 

The Brazilian has scored 50% of the team’s goals already this season and is the reason behind East Bengal FC best-ever start to a Hero ISL season at the end of six matches. 

“What a season Cleiton Silva is having, I love his passion and his work rate and just his quality of finishing once they get a chance,” noted Paartalu while also heaping praise on those playing the supporting cast to him. 

“Mahesh and Suhair make up a great support cast for him and really have that energy in a system mostly used on counters. Semboi being a focal point is a massive help, he always holds the ball up and always gets into those physical battles,” he added. 

Constantine also seems to have stumbled upon a solid core in the midfield with Jordan O’Doherty and Charis Kyriakou forming a solid partnership. Both players have already got on the scoresheet and could continue to do so given the way they are allowed to play. 

“The midfield pairing of O'doherty and Kyriacou has been successful so far, just doing what needs to be done and getting forward once or twice per game and getting goals from blindside runs,” Paartalu said. 

East Bengal FC may still be eighth in the points table but are showing signs of becoming a cohesive unit. The dedicated fan support could just galvanise the group and make them perform out of their skins. 

If Constantine is able to harness that, then East Bengal FC could have a real crack at the top six this season. Write off the Kolkata giants at your own peril.

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