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ISL 2019-20: Bengaluru FC's over-reliance on Sunil Chhetri is a problem for Carles Cuadrat

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Feature
Published Jan 08, 2020
Jan 08, 2020 IST

Sunil Chhetri is now one goal behind Roy Krishna in the race for the Golden Boot
Sunil Chhetri is now one goal behind Roy Krishna in the race for the Golden Boot

The Sree Kanteerava Stadium has seen this script enacted on its turf before. The West Block Blues wait to catch their collective breath before letting out a collective roar in adoration of the man behind whom they would even go to war.

Sunil Chhetri has done it again. If only by the might of his sheer will, he's dragged Bengaluru FC out of a slippery slope and put the defending ISL champions right back in the mix - just two points behind the league leaders.

That is seven ISL goals now, for the skipper this season. Whatever happened to those calls that we could possibly see a slowdown with his age. Chhetri said no. His team are in a title tussle again, and no, when he's around, he will be nowhere but right at the forefront of it.

Chhetri has now scored seven of Bengaluru's 13 goals this season. How much of that, though, is a cause of concern? We're not going to go into the awe of a 35-year-old who doesn't seem to be stopping any time soon.

What Bengaluru will be concerned about is not as much a passing of a baton as a sharing of responsibility. No other player for the champions has scored more than a single goal so far this season. And then, there is Chhetri.

The question really isn't anymore about whether Bengaluru are reliant on Chhetri. It is about how reliant they are, and whether that is a healthy prospect for Carles Cuadrat and his men.

On an episode of Gaurav Kapur's YouTube show 'Breakfast with Champions', the legendary West Indian cricketer Michael Holding had said that if you put "over" as a prefix to any word, it becomes a negative. Bengaluru FC are not bordering on that. They are well and truly over-reliant on Sunil Chhetri.

Chhetri loves the responsibility though. He has admitted that it is what drives him, that it is what inspires him to work hard every day.

But from a team perspective, Bengaluru need contributions from elsewhere. They need the likes of Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan - who between them, have a solitary goal and assist this season - to step up. They need Manu Onwu to start banging in a few goals. They need new signing Deshorn Brown to come in and hit the ground running straight away.

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Bengaluru don't just need Brown or Onwu to step up for their ability to score goals. Cuadrat's side just look so much more threatening and coherent when Chhetri is out on the left flank. The skipper has done a job in the centre-forward role when it has been asked of him, but there is such a better flow to the champions' football when Chhetri is cutting in from the wing.

Udanta Singh is a curious case, even for the Bengaluru faithful. Don't get this wrong, Bengaluru still has an unwavering love for its Flash, but even they know that at some point, potential has to translate into impact.

Udanta has been a much-protected player in the Bengaluru squad, with especially Chhetri always talking up the Manipuri winger, but after the Blues' win over FC Goa last week, Cuadrat let rip.

"All the challenges he had today, he lost. In attack, I’d asked him to go, 1v1, to just run forward. Today, he was not at the level that he can give the team, so I made the decision of changing him to get another solution."

It has really been the first sign from within the Bengaluru camp that Udanta has been given a message that he cannot take his spot on the right wing for granted, and with Kuruniyan's second-half performance from the right wing, Cuadrat knows that he has an option to field if he wants to start games without Udanta.

Raphael Augusto, currently nursing a slight niggle, has also been a slight disappointment for Cuadrat. The Brazilian has never been a big goal-scorer in his time in the ISL, where he spent four seasons at Chennaiyin FC, before making the move to Bengaluru.

But Augusto has played almost as a second striker in most games, and has got himself into superb positions in and around the opposition penalty area, but he has been horribly erratic with his finishing. The Brazilian should have at least three goals already so far this season, instead of the zero he actually has.

The addition of Brown and Onwu's return gives Bengaluru much-needed options in attack, but it also helps them defensively. Chhetri tracking back on the left side has been a feature of his game, especially under Cuadrat. Young Nishu Kumar has looked visibly more secure and confident when he has had Chhetri in front of him on the flank.

If things click for Bengaluru now in the business end of the season, there is no reason why the champions cannot finish top, there is no reason why they cannot lift the title again.

They haven't peaked yet, but they have managed to keep reasonable pace with the leaders, and like champions always do, they will look to peak at the right time.

However, for that to happen, they need to disregard however important their talismanic skipper is, and have more players from the squad to step up, to play perfect supporting roles.

Sunil Chhetri is a genius, he's got shoulders that don't wilt under the weight of responsibility. He will continue to make the country watch him in awe.

But Bengaluru need to take a cue from Holding's words. You can be reliant on Chhetri, you prefix "over" to that reliance, it begins to become a problem.

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