The Blues drew blanks against Chennaiyin FC at the Marina Arena….
Five goals in eight games away from home, Bengaluru FC’s record on the road this season heavily pales compared to their performance last season. In the 2018-19 edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), the Blues registered 14 goals in the eight away games during the league phase.
With nine goals under his belt, Sunil Chhetri has contributed to just under 50 per cent of Bengaluru’s goal tally this season. A confluence of these two stats saw the defending champions stage a lifeless performance against Chennaiyin FC at the Marina Arena.
The visitors assumed a ‘be careful not to lose approach’ and were hesitant to push men forward. Ashique Kuruniyan attempted to do too much on his own and gave the ball away cheaply. He completed only nine passes throughout the game and was dispossessed twice as many times.
On the other wing, Udanta Singh was neither able to muster a shot, nor could he successfully deliver a single cross. Deshorn Brown was practically non-existent bar his shot off-target in the first half.
Semboi Haokip and Nili Perdomo added very little substance after coming on. The former even missed a sitter, burying which could very well have fetched the Blues all three points.
The defending champions have struggled in front of goal this season, with both Manuel Onwu and Brown failing to live up to the bare requirements of that of a striker. But Chhetri – who is the only Indian player among top 10 goalscorers this season – has gotten his side over the line on many occasion.
Chennaiyin too played a key role in ensuring a stalemate in the first 45 minutes. Nerijus Valskis matched his opposite number’s performance at the other end. Lallianzuala Chhangte was completely nullified by the young Suresh Wangjam, who was among the few bright spots for the visitors. Rafael Crivellaro was a bright spark for Chennaiyin, with his vision proving to be a threat for Bengaluru FC. He was ably supported by Edwin Vanspaul who looked calm and composed in midfield.
The hosts stepped it up a notch in the second half and knocked on Bengaluru’s doors several times. Chennaiyin’s lack of fluency was in large parts thanks to the absence of of the suspended Anirudh Thapa. They missed his creative presence and since Masih Saighani had to be deployed to replace him in the absence of Germanpreet Singh, Andre Schembri had to be sacrificed from the starting XI.
It was no surprise to see Schembri being sent on in the second half by Coyle as Chennaiyin tried to get that winner, with Thoi moving to an unfamiliar midfield role. And the move almost paid dividends when Rafael picked out Schembri inside the box with a crisp pass, only to see Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Rahul Bheke combine to clear his effort away on the line.
Eventually, it was a case of Bengaluru’s pragmatism halting Chennaiyin’s blunt frontline. Juanan kept Valskis out of the game and Gurpreet was barely tested. Both sides had all the answers to the questions presented to them by the opposition. More often than not, it revolved around committing a tactical foul. The five added minutes in a goal-less draw hence presents a summary of the drama that transpired between the two sides.
It was not a boring game by any means. Tactically, both sides matched each other and probably, their changes to the front four in the starting XI contributed to the goalless affair we witnessed.
However, the drama was not restricted to 95 minutes. Chhetri picked up a yellow card from the bench after the game for his altercation with the officials. That being his fourth, restricts his participation in Bengaluru’s next ISL game, against Kerala Blasters FC.
This suspension could be a blessing in disguise for Bengaluru as it wipes away Chhetri’s three yellow cards and provides him with a clean slate for the crucial tie against ATK and the potential play-off games.
In the end, it is a point that keeps both sides satisfied. However, it can be argued that probably it is Bengaluru’s aspirations (top spot) that have taken the biggest hit rather than Chennaiyin’s (fourth spot) after this game.