East Bengal are set for their biggest game in nine years as they take on Indonesia’s Semen Padang in the second leg of the AFC Cup quarter-final on Tuesday. The Kolkata club holds a slender 1-0 lead from the first leg in Kolkata but coach Marcos Falopa is facing a crisis in midfield as Mehtab Hossain is the only central midfielder in the 18-man squad who has made the trip to Indonesia.
Falopa will have to decide his midfield combination and whether to play two strikers or just one upfront. Sportskeeda looks into the possible formations that the 64-year-old Brazilian could use in this highly-anticipated second leg.
The Winning Formula
East Bengal looked outnumbered in midfield for about an hour in the first leg with Mehtab Hossain being overworked as Falopa was using a traditional 4-4-2 against Semeng Padang’s 4-1-4-1. But the Brazilian took a bold decision of taking off striker James Moga, much to the South Sudan international’s frustration, and changed it to a 4-1-4-1 to match the Indonesian outfit in midfield.
That switch worked brilliantly as East Bengal went in front with Cavin Lobo setting up Ryuji Sueoka for the winner. The new system allowed the likes of Lobo and Sueoka to express themselves while Mehtab could focus on protecting the back four.
Fullbacks Naoba Singh and Saumik Dey also didn’t have to get forward too often and that could well be the theme in the second leg if Falopa sticks to this system. If that eventually happens, Moga is likely to miss out from the starting eleven with Edeh Chidi expected to play the lone striker role with Joaquim Abranches on the left flank.
The Traditional 4-4-2
Semen Padang’s failure to score an away goal in the first leg could come back to haunt them but only if East Bengal can score in Indonesia. Although they don’t need to take the game to Semen Padang, Falopa might well just use the traditional 4-4-2 with Chidi and Moga upfront and look to get an early away goal.
The flaw in the Kolkata club’s strategy in the first leg was the fact that they tried to play too many short passes despite having a four-man midfield compared to Semen Padang’s five.
So if Falopa opts for the 4-4-2, East Bengal should look to hit long balls towards their strikers. It will be completely opposite to the ‘Brazilian-style’ but it’s the only way they can make the most of the 4-4-2.
Playing the attack-minded Sueoka in central midfield could be a risk but that is the best available option for Falopa. This system would certainly increase the load on Mehtab as he often might have to cover up for Sueoka, who will be expected to support the strikers and fullbacks Naoba and Saumik will have very little license to overlap. The 4-4-2 will be a massive gamble for Falopa.
Saumik in midfield?
We have seen Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola use one of the world’s best fullbacks Philipp Lahm in central midfield and something similar could be seen in this second leg as Falopa reportedly has used left back Saumik in midfield in a couple of training sessions after the first leg. The basic idea behind having Saumik in the central midfield is to allow Sueoka to operate in a more advanced role.
This 4-2-3-1 system would certainly see Sueoka operate in his best position, just behind the main striker, and will also allow the fullbacks to support the wide midfielders in attack. Saumik has plenty of experience and could be useful for making tackles in midfield but technically he has his limitations and is also not the quickest so, this could be another risk considering the quality of East Bengal’s opposition.
This formation would also allow Mehtab some freedom to contribute in the attacks but will Saumik be able to adapt to a new position?
Inspired by Morgan
The majority of East Bengal fans are still fond of the highly successful Trevor Morgan, whose achievements are repeated at almost every media interaction of Falopa. The Brazilian has been respectful towards his predecessor and has admitted that some aspects of his team’s play are a continuation of Morgan’s work.
So, maybe East Bengal could revert to the diamond that Morgan used to employ in midfield by having two more midfielders centrally besides Mehtab and Penn at the top.
This system allows Penn to express himself just behind the two strikers and Sueoka could benefit the same way. It would also allow Falopa to use all three of his foreign attackers in the starting eleven.
While the 4-4-2 would be a little risky, this formation would give East Bengal more security in midfield and allow their twin foreign strikers to combine. Additionally fullbacks Naoba and Saumik will also be encouraged to overlap at every opportunity.Published 23 Sep 2013, 20:09 IST