To be brutally honest, football tactics in India fall into one of two categories - English dominated or Spanish dominated. The English dominated teams play like it’s 1985 and the Spanish dominated teams tended to struggle at executing their ideas. Even so, there were some interesting tactical quirks that each Indian Super League team had. Some of these were intentional, some were a result of having specific players in specific positions at specific stages of the season or game. Here are a few that I think are interesting enough to keep an eye out for in the future.
ATK had a season to forget but I think the future looks bright for them. Towards the end of the season they were playing a 4-4-2. Generally, I would call that foolish, but given their personnel I think they will be very dangerous going forwards. Their fate, however, will hinge on their midfield. In the Hero Super Cup and the last game of ISL, Keane chose Hitesh Sharma ( who I love watching ) and Conor Thomas in the middle. As a duo, they tick every box – speed, work rate, physical presence and technique – but it remains to be seen if they can also nullify the opponents. If they can, the front 4 of Zequinha, Keane, Kalu Uche and Mbatha (if he returns) could be one of the best India has seen.
BFC are a club enjoying their spell in the limelight and are the team to beat in the country, but on the pitch the team has gone through a bit of an identity crisis. The Spanish speaking entourage have generally tried to keep the ball on the ground to deadly effect but in emergency situations the team has been able to rely on their set pieces to see them through games… until Edu Garcia left. Since Edu left the club, Bengaluru have only managed to score 3 set piece goals, from 17 chances.
If you look at BFC's set pieces over the course of the season, BFC have a conversions rate of 18% when taken by Edu Garcia vs 14% for any other player.
It will be interesting to see how this shift away from set plays impacts the club.
The most interesting tactic from Chennai was definitely unintentional, it came about as a
result of personnel choices. Jerry Lalrinzuala and Inigo Calderon were the best full back combination in the league because they both performed to a very high standard but also because their styles of play complimented each other. Inigo Calderon is an inverted full back – meaning that he prefers to charge down the inside right channel and get a shot away. Jerry is a more traditional full-back and stays out wide as a chance creation option. Calderon has taken 14 shots for an xG of 1.89, which is more than the winger in front of him, Francis Fernandes. Jerry’s crossing alone has created as many chances as Inigo Calderon in total! It’s a pity that we will most likely not get to see more of this combination.
Delhi Dynamos were one of the more interesting teams in the league, tactically. A lot has been said about Chhangte and his shift to the centre and I’m baffled why more hasn’t been said about Vinit Rai and has Regista like role. But for me, the most interesting tactical manoeuvre from Miguel Angel Portgual’s side was the use of Jeroen Lumu at left back. Most of Delhi’s problems came from trying to pass it out from defense and shooting themselves in the face, moving Lumu deeper turned out to be the answer. Not only did he provide a passing option to play around the opposition but he was vital in that deeper zone because he was able to hit long balls over the top for the likes of Nandha and Chhangte to chase. Being able to bypass the midfield while building play made Delhi a significantly better team.
FC Goa are the best team to watch in the country. Almost everything they do is tactically interesting to watch but the one thing I’d like to highlight is how they use Ahmed Jahouh. He predominantly stays in and around the centre circle, even if the ball is in his own box. While Goa attack, Jahouh sits deep and provides an option to recycle the ball but is also tasked with nipping counter attacks out. In his own defensive third, the Moroccan usually vacates his space and moves higher up the pitch so the likes of Edu Bedia or Hugo Boumous (another classy performer) can move in and help progress the ball. I do not think Goa can afford to play Jahouh, Edu and Boumous in the same line up and my money is on Jahouh, the man with the most passes, interceptions, tackles AND touches in the league, to drop out.
Part two coming out this weekend. And as always, tweet to me @sgtsaltnpeppa.