The cover of the match day programme for Bengaluru FC’s second home match of the Indian Super League featured Sunil Chhetri and Co as the heroic Rebel Alliance from the Star Wars universe. The visiting East Bengal players, naturally, were portrayed as the villainous Galactic Empire.
However, had any of Bengaluru’s attackers been a part of the rebellion, they would have surely missed the shot to destroy the Death Star and the Siths would have gone on to rule for millennia.
Sunil Chhetri, the Chosen One, is still strong with the Force chasing lost causes and giving hope to the Bengaluru faithful. But with Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia unable to support him, Chhetri has often cut a frustrated figure at the top of the Bengaluru attack.
On Friday against East Bengal, Bengaluru succumbed to their third straight loss of the season to leave them ninth in the ISL points table with just four points.
Simon Grayson’s side went into the new ISL season on the back of a first Durand Cup title. With fans once again allowed into the stadiums, expectations from the 2018-’19 champions were high. There was a new hope. However, the pre-season buzz has not translated into results on the pitch.
Bengaluru came into Friday’s match with four points in four matches and on the back of two close 1-0 defeats to leaders Hyderabad FC and Odisha FC. A home match against a relatively weaker side in East Bengal was the perfect match for Grayson’s men to get their season back on track.
However, Friday’s match was just another example of Bengaluru’s continued struggle to find a perfect striking partner for Chhetri. We are currently in the fourth season of Bengaluru’s attempt to replacing the mercurial Miku and the signs do not look promising.
In the ensuing three seasons since Miku’s departure, Bengaluru have signed and let go off six foreign strikers. The likes of Deshorn Brown, Kevaughn Frater, Manuel Onwu, Kristian Opseth and Cleiton Silva tried to fill the Venezualan’s big boots.
Of them, only Silva was able to outscore Chhetri during his time at the club. But the Brazilian left in the off-season to join East Bengal. It was ironic that after two years with Bengaluru, Silva’s first goal at the Kanteerava came against his former side.
Prince Ibara is still with the club but was injured in the Durand Cup with Grayson admitting ahead of the East Bengal match that the Congolese striker will not be available for a long period of time.
Bengaluru signed Roy Krishna in the off season hoping that the veteran’s proven track record in the ISL with ATK Mohun Bagan would help him hit the ground running. The Fijian did start life in Bengaluru’s blues strongly scoring thrice in the Durand Cup and displayed signs that he could lead the Bengaluru attack with Chhetri and the young Sivasakthi Narayanan.
The latter has been a revelation for Bengaluru. After starting from the bench in the Durand Cup, Sivasakthi forced himself into the starting XI on the back of some crucial goals. It was his goal in the final against Mumbai City FC that ended Bengaluru’s wait for a Durand Cup title.
The trio, however, have not been able to replicate their Durand Cup success in the ISL so far. In four matches, Bengaluru have only scored two goals, the joint least in the league with NorthEast United. To make matters worse, Sivasakthi picked up an ankle injury against Odisha and was absent from the match day squad for Friday.
Struggling with shots on goal
What is more troubling, however, is the lack of attacking output from the side. Bengaluru, with 45 shots, are the only team with less than 50 shots on goal this season at the time of writing. In contrast, ATK Mohun Bagan have almost twice the number of attempts with 86 shots.
Speaking after the deflating loss against East Bengal, Grayson said, “I thought we looked more of threat than we have done recently. I thought we played with a tempo without the ball, we pressed in the right areas, passed it with a lot of intensity as well. We had better players on the pitch tonight. Javi was a constant threat.
“We just haven’t done what really is the hardest part of the job. It’s hitting the target around the 18-yard box and working the goalkeeper more. That comes with confidence, belief and quality as well. That is the thing that was probably missing.”
Barring Friday’s match and their opening match against NEUFC, Bengaluru have struggled to create chances for their strikers in the box. Against Chennaiyin, Hyderabad and Odisha, Bengaluru had one, two and two shots on target respectively. On the other hand, their opponents had six, four and six shots on target respectively.
Even against NEUFC, Bengaluru had just the two attempts on target with a whopping 10 attempts off it. Though they had eight attempts to East Bengal’s six on Friday, only one was on target.
EB, on the other hand, managed to direct four of their six attempts towards goal. Krishna had two really good opportunities to give his side the lead in the second half but was unable to even trouble Kamaljit Singh in goal.
Despite winning just once in the season, Bengaluru conceded only four times thanks to the excellent Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and a good defensive unit marshalled by Sandesh Jhingan and Aleksandar Jovanovic. However, the longer Chhetri and Co’s struggles in front of goal continue, the harder it would become for their defence to keep their team in matches going forward.
Their next three fixtures will see them play fourth-placed Mumbai City FC, third-placed FC Goa and second-placed ATK Mohun Bagan. It is time that Bengaluru’s attackers became one with the Force.