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ISL 2018-19: Why Bengaluru FC's Sunil Chhetri is Going Through a Goal Drought

EXPERT COLUMNIST
Feature
14 Dec 2018, 11:00 IST

Sunil Chhetri of Bengaluru FC endured yet another game without scoring against ATK [Image: ISL]
Sunil Chhetri of Bengaluru FC endured yet another game without scoring against ATK [Image: ISL]

Bengaluru FC's Sunil Chhetri has notched up five goals in this season of the Indian Super League (ISL) and looked set to lead the race for the Golden Boot award at the start of the season.

However, the prolific forward, the top-scorer for the Indian national team with 56 strikes, has not found the back of the net in the last five games for the Blues.

FC Goa's Ferran Corominas and Bartholomew Ogbeche of NorthEast United currently lead the goalscoring charts with 8 goals each while Modou Sougou of Mumbai City FC has also caught up with 5 goals. Chhetri is slowly losing his hold over the goalscorers' list. 

Chhetri's last goal came over 460 minutes ago in the 2-1 win over FC Goa at the Fatorda Stadium. 

Against ATK on Thursday, Chhetri could have broken the jinx in added time but, from a tight angle at the left post, he shot wide across goal and the ball rolled out.

Hard luck for the 34-year-old on Thursday, but what's really stopping Chhetri from scoring?

The answer, in brief, is Miku

Chhetri's goal drought coincides with the ankle injury to Bengaluru FC's Venezuelan striker Miku, who has been ruled out until February 2019.

When Miku and Chhetri play together, they are hard to contain. The two are lethal when they play as a pair with Miku as the no.9 and Chhetri on the left wing.

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Last season Miku and Chhetri combined for 29 ISL goals [Image: ISL]
Last season Miku and Chhetri combined for 29 ISL goals [Image: ISL]

Up until the FC Goa game, the pair of Chhetri and Miku recorded 31 out of the 44 goals that BFC had scored - that's nearly 71% of the goals that Bengaluru score.

What makes this pair so lethal is that Miku's presence in the attacking third allows him to draw two defenders to mark his threat. This gives Chhetri a large chunk of space on the left to exploit, which helps him surge into the box and score.

When the defenders run towards Chhetri to mark him, the 34-year-old links up again with Miku, who would have found himself in an advanced position in the box.

This way, the duo got themselves going until Miku suffered an injury in the Kerala Blasters game on 5 November.

What happened then?

With no pure no.9 in the team, Bengaluru coach Carles Cuadrat tried to play his other forwards Chencho Gyeltshen and Semboi Haokip as the centre-forwards.

However, Chencho is most comfortable as a counter-attacking player who can cut in from the left wing. He showed his quality in the 2-1 win over FC Pune City but was unlucky not to score in that game.

Semboi, on the other hand, isn't comfortable as a target man either. The number of chances he fluffed in the 1-1 draw against 10-man Mumbai City FC tells you that he isn't really cut out to take over the role from Miku as that is just not his strength.

Even with these two rotating as the centre-forwards, opposition defenders always kept a check on Chhetri and did not give him any space.

This forced Cuadrat to try Chhetri as the no.9. Chhetri, who is already a marked man by the opposition defenders, now has two to three players to deal with. 

Chhetri, playing as the centre-forward, doesn't enjoy the freedom he used to on the left wing and would get pushed out by taller and more physical defenders.

Udanta Singh has eased the goalscoring burden with 3 goals in the last 5 games [Image: ISL]
Udanta Singh (21) has eased the goalscoring burden with 3 goals in the last 5 games [Image: ISL]

In the game against Pune City, Chhetri was asked by Cuadrat to take shots from outside the box for this reason. Not just he, the other BFC players too went for long rangers because of the compactness of the Pune City defence.

The clock ticked on and nothing was working for Chhetri. Fortunately for BFC, others such as Udanta Singh and Rahul Bheke stepped up to get them the goals.

Chhetri himself was glad that Udanta finally got off the mark in the game against Delhi Dynamos and repeated that with a wonder strike against Pune City.

Also read: You'll see a different Udanta now that he's finally scored, says Sunil Chhetri

It took the pressure off him and allowed Bengaluru FC to go into the ISL break with 27 points in 11 games, ensuring at least a three-point lead over the rest of the pack.

One can also argue that Chhetri scored against Goa in the absence of Miku, but the Goan defence isn't really the most compact of all the teams in the league. They let just about anyone score.

Cuadrat addressed the Chhetri issue in the post-match press conference of the game against ATK.

"You know that Sunil (Chhetri) is making a big sacrifice without Miku. He's taking the spot of the no.9 - not his favourite position at the moment. But he's fighting a lot and running a lot with Johnson and Bikey (in this game). 
"We were talking during training that this is one of the games where we could try Xisco as the attacking midfielder. It's the position of the no.9 but more about pushing the central defenders, getting them back and Sunil, from the middle, gets free to hit the ball. 
"It worked, we had a good number of counter-attacks by playing Sunil on the left and Xisco as the false No 9."

So for his own, and the team's sake, Chhetri will surely hope that Miku returns for Bengaluru's next game, which could be sometime in late January.

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