Indian Super League 2022-23: Bengaluru FC storm into playoffs

February 22, 2023

Simon Grayson’s Blues have had to do it the hard way to make the top six this Indian Super League (ISL) season. The revamped ISL format has created opportunities for mid-table teams to fight for something during the course of the league. Bengaluru FC (BFC), it is fair to say, have not been at their best, considering the season in its entirety. 

The West Block Blues did not have much to cheer about in the games following their win over NorthEast United in their season-opener at the Kanteerava. Things went disappointingly downhill from thereon, with BFC losing four of their next five games. Their solitary draw during that run came against Chennaiyin FC, who were down to 10 men towards the end of the game. 

The Blues mustered up a victory at the Fatorda against FC Goa, giving manager Simon Grayson more time and the fans more patience. However, two losses soon after to ATK Mohun Bagan and rivals Kerala Blasters had the fans’ heads turned against the manager. 

The Blues, up until this point, employed a back-four and looked to play with a midfield-three. They kept just one clean sheet until this point, which was in their opener against NorthEast United. The goals had also dried up at the other end, with BFC scoring just six in nine games. Much of the improvement in the side came after the tactical switch to a back-five. 

Tweak to back-five

BFC marked their third victory of the campaign against Jamshedpur FC (1-0) through a Danish Farooq goal. The game also saw a distinct change in the team’s setup, which would eventually help the side progress into the playoffs.

The manager went with a back-five, deploying Roshan Singh and Prabir Das as wingbacks, who would become highly crucial to Grayson’s system as the major outlets on the flanks. Singh would often be the one to take on the opposition fullbacks; the youngster can use both his feet and deliver consistently using either foot.

However, Bengaluru suffered another setback, losing two games: the first coming against Hyderabad FC at home and the second away at East Bengal, courtesy of a Cleiton Silva winner. However, the gaffer stuck to his plan and continued with the back-five. With the ball, the approach was to be direct and play the ball directly into either Roy Krishna or Sunil Chhetri.

Decision to drop the skipper 

The most significant decision that dampened BFC fans was dropping the captain, Sunil Chhetri. However, the decision seemed justified as BFC saw a turnaround in their fortunes. Playing with a strike-pairing of Roy Krishna and Sivasakthi, BFC kicked off their stunning eight-match winning run. The plan was to be direct and let Siva run off second balls from Krishna. Siva also gave BFC the legs to break quickly on the counter and nick goals by applying pressure off the ball. 

Bengaluru’s display against Chennaiyin, which was their fourth win on the trot, saw goals from Siva and Rohit Kumar, all of which came from mistakes due to pressure applied on the opposition or quick breakaways. 

There was delight among BFC fans when their captain found himself in the eleven against Mumbai City. Chhetri even got on the scoresheet, which proved vital in BFC sealing their place in the top six. 

Grayson also chose to leave Javi out of the line-up in the club’s final league game against FC Goa at home and gave Chhetri his second start in a row. 

What must be seen is whether Chhetri retains his spot in the first eleven come the playoffs or the partnership that has provided BFC with the greatest success this season is preferred. 

The Rohit and Suresh effect 

The popular midfield pairing preferred during this incredible run was Suresh Wangjam and Rohit Kumar. The work put in by both these Indian midfielders is crucial, allowing their Spanish playmaker, Javi Hernández, to get further forward and influence the play in the final third. 

Wangjam missed the Kerala Blasters game due to suspension, and his presence was certainly missed in the BFC midfield. On the other hand, Kumar has proved his ability to play the ball out of tight areas, with or without support. He ventures forward at times and puts away his chances in the box. He’s got three goals this season from deep in midfield and could easily nick one for his teams in tight games.

It is nearly certain that the two Indian midfielders will take their places in the deeper-lying midfield roles for the Blues in the tournament’s next stage.

What remains in store for BFC in the knockout stages?

The Blues move into the playoffs high on confidence after this incredible winning run. Although not the prettiest, the team have found their style of playing. Being direct from goal kicks and allowing Siva to run onto second balls is the way forward. Apart from that, BFC will occasionally hope for some magic from Javi or Krishna. 

If Chhetri does indeed find a spot in the eleven during the playoffs, expect the fans to go berserk during the club’s home games, if any.

An incredible turnaround: from possibly finishing in the bottom three to finding a spot in the top six and standing a chance to finish the season in the top four, the ride has been exquisite for BFC fans. If Bengaluru can get through their single-knockout clash before the semi-final, expect them to conjure up a victory across a two-legged semi.

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