ISL 2020-21: Defensive strength is the need of the hour for East Bengal coach Robbie Fowler

The Rouge et Or don’t have the right staff to play an attacking style of football …

It hasn’t been the best start for East Bengal in their first Indian Super League (ISL) season. The Kolkata club have yet to record a win in their opening six games and are placed at the bottom of the table with just two points.

The Rouge et Or have already conceded 11 goals and only managed to score three. It took them 350 minutes to score their first ISL goal.

The stat above gives us a fair idea that the Reds and Golds don’t have the firepower to score goals at will. The likes of Balwant Singh, CK Vineeth and Jeje Lalpekhlua did not really impress as a main striker. In fact, after running options, coach Robbie Fowler fielded former Ireland international Anthony Pilkington as the squad’s number 9, who has played mostly as a winger their entire career, in their last match against the Kerala Blasters.

The East Bengal coach has experimented with different permutations and combinations in the six matches the team have played so far. They played with three fullbacks and also four at a time. While they played 476 passes against ATK Mohun Bagan and retained 59% possession of the ball, against Mumbai City, Fowler’s men played 365 passes and had 46% possession.

Fowler was also forced to take a pragmatic approach against Jamshedpur FC. After being useless in their first four matches, East Bengal were, for the most part, desperate for at least one draw against Jamshedpur. Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s early expulsion actually played a key role in this decision. East Bengal did well to hold Jamshedpur and gain a point.

In their last game against the Kerala Blasters, Fowler was again seen focusing on defensive strength and relying on counters to move forward. From one of these counters, the Red and Golds had managed to take the lead. The first-half goal had made Fowler even more defensive and they almost held on, only for Jeakson Singh’s last goal to spoil their party.

Sahal Abdul Samad, Kerala Blasters vs East Bengal

Robbie Fowler doesn’t have the staff to keep the ball and play a possession-based game. In the last game against the Kerala Blasters, they started the tie by pushing high and winning the ball up the field to launch quick counter attacks.

In the three games where they saw more ball – ATK Mohun Bagan, NorthEast United and Hyderabad FC – it was more a case of an opponent allowing them to have more possession. Antonio Habas lined up his side to hit counterattacks, NorthEast United are known to sit and play straight while Hyderabad only had three foreigners against them which made it difficult to hold the ball.

Even when they have more possession of the ball, they are not able to penetrate, nor a proper number nine, and in good form, to hold the ball and put the midfielders in play. They have to focus on strength. defensive and be careful not to give away cheap goals, as seen in their matches against Kerala and Hyderabad.