Quess East Bengal Football Club having started off brightly by winning two away matches at Neroca FC and Lajong FC, made the management and it’s millions of supporters ecstatic. But soon their tempo fizzled out as they suffered two back to back losses, one at home to league leaders Chennai City FC and then away to Aizwal FC (the then bottom-placed team in the league table). Suddenly one of the biggest and most successful Indian clubs which looked extremely formidable on papers after having acquired a rich investor, a new foreign coaching staff, and high profile signings looked no different than any other average small budget clubs. On the contrary, smaller teams like Chennai City FC, Gokulam FC, and Churchill Brothers with less than half of Quess East Bengal’s budget seem to surpass all expectations with their on-field performances so far. So where has it all gone wrong for the 98-year-old club? Would the millions supporting the age-old club be deprived once again of lifting the I League? Can the team turn around by resorting to some tactical changes? These are some common questions playing around in the mind of the supporters and the Indian football fraternity. With our observation of the team so far, we intend to highlight the flaws and also a few prospective solutions in regard to the team combination and strategy:
- The essence of a successful soccer team lies in its midfield and that is precisely where a team like East Bengal is lacking big time. Coach Alejandro Menendez has more often used Kamalpreet Singh and Lalrindika Ralte to anchor the midfield, which the duo has misfired badly. They often look confused with their roles and out of position most of the time. Singh in particular has looked lackluster throughout and seems a total misfit in his role as a destroyer. In order to make up for the gaps in the midfield left by his counterpart, Ralte’s playmaking ability is being badly affected. He is being drawn to make rash and unnecessary challenges. He has already received two yellow cards in his four outings and was very lucky to escape a red card against Aizwal FC. Both Singh and Ralte lack the ability to dictate proceedings in midfield. The former is a right-back and the latter is an attacking midfielder by trade. Hence their lack of depth in the middle of the park is evident.
- Coach Alejandro’s apathy towards Kassim Aidara’s inclusion in the first eleven has added further to their midfield woes. It is a known fact that Kassim is a far better fit as a central defensive midfielder than Kamalpreet Singh. If he is not in the Coach’s plan then the team management should get rid of Kassim immediately, but if not then they must play him.
- It is extremely unfortunate to miss the services of a player of Mahmoud Al Amna’s quality in the center of the field. We are aware of his capabilities in regard to creativity and ball distribution although he doesn’t score much. At 36, it is quite understandable that Amna is already past his prime, and injuries do not recuperate easily. In fact, chances of recurrence are maximum at this age. In such a case the club should respectfully do a golden handshake with him and sign a good quality central attacking midfielder(in the available foreign quota) who can play in the no.10 role just behind the striker/s and help the team not only by creating in the final third but also by scoring goals. A quality no.10 can additionally help the team by pressing the opponent team high up the pitch and disrupting their build-up play. Enrique Esqueda is an out and out box striker, hence he would like to be fed up with quality passes upfront.
- The high profile signing of the Costarican defender Johny Acosta who featured in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup in Russia created a lot of buzz in the Indian football fraternity. A lot was and still is expected of him, but he still seems to bewilder us with his inconsistent displays. His slide tackles and clearances seem to be a major problem area although his distribution and positioning are second to none. On the other hand, a lesser-known Spanish defender Borja Gomez seems to steal all the limelight and is certainly leading the defensive line with his positioning sense, tackles and clearances.
- The Indian contingent of the squad looks relatively inferior in regard to the 3 S’s most required in football i.e. skill, speed, and stamina, to other squads like that of Chennai City FC, Churchill Brothers, and Gokulam FC. This is certainly impacting the team badly. Next year the team management has to be more consistent and cautious while recruiting Indian players.
- Coach Alejandro should be open to varying his team combinations and formations based on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents. He just cannot stick to a single team formation or combination which is usually a conventional 4-4-2. With limited options in his hands, he should immediately resort to a more dynamic and robust 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-3-2 team formation in order to make the midfield and defense more compact, arrest the gaps, and also at the same time make constructive attacks either through the wings or down the middle. The coach can utilize Johny Acosta in a sweeper role in front of the central defense or can use a double pivot in front of the central defense. With Acosta’s vast experience and superior game reading, he can disrupt the gameplay of opponents at will. Moreover, his immaculate passing will certainly aid the team in its build-up play.
- With the arrival of the young Spanish winger Jaime Santos Colado, the team will definitely have an additional arsenal. It is expected that the Coach will play him in his preferred area i.e.left wing. It is expected that his explosive pace, finesse shooting, and tendency to cut inside will add more dimension to the team’s attack.
- As mentioned above, the team management has to act quickly and recruit a specialist foreign creative midfielder. It is certain that its introduction will immensely improve the dynamism of the entire team.
- Additional focus should also be given in regard to the goalkeeping department. East Bengal has always suffered from erroneous goalkeeping in the past. In the last two matches of the ongoing I League, the goalkeeping department has looked susceptible. The Coach needs to address this and make arrangements for extra training sessions for the goalkeepers. Rakshit Dagar is a quality goalkeeper and with more practice and guidance he will prosper.