ISL 2018-19: Bengaluru FC, efficiency and Cuadrat Time
The Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru is not the prettiest sight around. With one of the four stands relegated to just being a placeholder, there's a rather antique feel about the whole surrounding. But the current footballing occupant of the Kanteerava makes the stadium a must-visit despite any concerns over the structure.
Bengaluru FC are five points ahead of the nearest competitor in the Indian Super League, with a game in hand. Such has been the dominance of Carles Cuadrat's side that they have more wins than the number of points accumulated by three teams out of ten. In fact, the bottom four - Kerala Blasters, Chennaiyin FC, FC Pune City and Delhi Dynamos - have 22 points between them. Bengaluru stand alone with 22 on their own.
What is the secret behind this Bengaluru side? Just what has driven them to be the first ever side in ISL history to record six wins on the bounce?
To put it simply, Bengaluru keep finding a way to win. That's as much a testament to the quality of this Bengaluru side as it is to the fitness of the whole squad.
Only a few days ago, David James lamented the fact that his players were cramping up far too often late in games. Bengaluru have injury concerns, but they've all been something more than just cramps.
Erik Paartalu, Miku, Dimas Delgado and Albert Serran, have all missed all or some part of Bengaluru's three games after the international break. Yet, Bengaluru have rolled on. To say they didn't miss any of those four at any point would be a stretch, but champion sides find a way. So far this season, Bengaluru have always found a way.
In Goa, without Miku and Paartalu, they put in a fantastic display of controlling a game, even after being dealt the blow of Dimas's red card. At home against Delhi on Monday, Dimas was suspended, Miku was out, and Paartalu was only fit enough to start on the bench. Despite a below-par performance, Bengaluru rode their luck before Udanta Singh delivered a late sucker-punch.
Last night at the Kanteerava, Bengaluru peppered Pune with 32 shots in the game, but it took a late moment of redemption for Rahul Bheke saw the Blues take all three points yet again.
Why does Bengaluru keep winning despite key absentees? Those coming in as replacements have ensured there's not a huge gap in quality. For example, the Bhutanese winger Chencho Gyeltshen replaced Miku in Goa and has started every game since.
While there's an obvious difference in the qualities of the Venezuelan and the Bhutanese, Chencho has brought an additional dimension to the side with his speed and his directness, which has enabled Bengaluru to attack from both flanks and taken a little bit of the pressure off the shoulders of Udanta on the right wing.
Versatility, oh that versatility thing. Bheke, Harmanjot Khabra and Nishu Kumar have all essayed multiple roles this season, and as Cuadrat says, it is very important for him to have the security of versatility, should he need to make changes.
That also ensured that in the absence of Serran against Pune, Cuadrat didn't have to fall back on his non-regular starters like a Rino Anto or a Gursimrat Singh. Bheke moved to centre-back, Khabra slotted into the Mumbaikar's usual right-back slot, and in the end, it was that combination which brought the winner.
A lot has been made over the last week about the Kerala Blasters' ability to implode spectacularly in the dying embers of games. The Blasters have dropped 7 points this season to goals conceded in the last 15 minutes.
Now, compare that to Bengaluru. Cuadrat's men have won all their last four games by a single goal. Each of those winning goals has come after the 75th minute.
A Nikola Krcmarevic own-goal in the 80th minute in Kochi, a Sunil Chhetri header in the 77th in Fatorda, a deflected Udanta strike in the 87th against Delhi, and a Bheke smash-from-close-range in the 88th against Pune, Bengaluru have won themselves 8 points in their last 4 games, in just the last 15 minutes.
They're clutch. Cuadrat loves it. Cuadrat is pumping his fist, and the West Block roars its approval even louder for every additional time their boss' fist pumps.
The fans, too, played their part. There have been plenty of acknowledgements over the past few days of the part that the fans played in those last few minutes to drag Bengaluru beyond the line.
Remember Fergie Time? Bengaluru have their own little version of that this season. They will probably call it Cuadrat Time.
But in truth, all of this season has been Cuadrat Time for Bengaluru, not just the dying stages.
Cuadrat loves it. Chhetri loves it. Gurpreet loves it. Bengaluru FC are loving it. And really, all the Blues' faithful love this Bengaluru FC. The new, improved, dominant Bengaluru FC.