Bengaluru FC's 4-2 win over Kerala Blasters at the Fatorda had almost everything an entertaining football match should have. It had six goals, a saved penalty, tremendous work-rate from both teams in trying conditions in Goa. This Southern Derby, however, didn't have a red card and a Bengaluru set-piece goal.
Since the departure of Miku, Bengaluru FC coach Carles Cuadrat has relied heavily on set-pieces as a source of goals. In fact, the 2019-20 season of the Indian Super League saw Bengaluru FC score just 24 goals. Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri managed nine of the 24 goals, with 8 goals coming from defensive players. What is even more shocking is the fact that Cuadrat has employed similar tactics for the 2020-21 season as well.
The club might have scored more goals than most other teams this season. But as things stand, center-back Juanan is the top goalscorer along with Sunil Chhetri with 2 goals for the season. Five of the nine goals scored this season by the Blues have come almost exclusively from set-pieces.
Carles Cuadrat has a lot of work to do in terms of strengthening the attack unit and scoring from open play. However, the over-reliance on set-piece play also has its advantages.
Let's take a look at a SWOT to see how set-pieces can give Bengaluru FC an edge in the current season of the ISL.
SWOT Analysis - Bengaluru FC Set-pieces
In the context of the ISL, the Blues have the best possible players for set-pieces. Dimas Delgado has been the orchestrator for set-pieces for the most part in the last three seasons. When it comes to throw-ins near the opposition penalty box, Harmanjot Khabra and Rahul Bheke have delivered the ball near the penalty spot on several occasions.
So far, Erik Paartalu, Cleiton Silva, and Juanan have been successful in converting set-pieces to goals. All three of these players have a very strong presence in the box and can prove deadly when it comes to set-pieces. Except for Ashique Kuruniyan, Udanta Singh, and Suresh Wangjam, almost all of the Bengaluru FC players are strong, well-built, and imposing when it comes to aerial prowess.
Therefore, with good creators and very strong individuals, the set-piece play is a good tactic for Bengaluru FC.
The 3-1 loss against ATK in the semifinal of the 2019-20 ISL is a perfect example of the set-piece ploy not working for Bengaluru FC. While the Blues are dangerous from corners, free-kicks, and throw-ins, most teams in the ISL have begun preparing for them with defensive strategies of their own.
For instance, Bengaluru's 0-0 draw against Hyderabad FC saw Odei Onaindia and Chinglensana Singh completely nullify the set-piece routines of Bengaluru FC with some terrific positioning. There are thus teams in the current season that are careful not to concede too many free-kicks, corners, and throw-ins in and around the final third.
As things stand, four of the nine goals this season have come from set-pieces. It is an extraordinary output, given the fact that converting a set-piece into a goal has a very low probability. There will be more goals scored from corners and free-kicks without a doubt, but long throw-ins are a good opportunity for the Blues.
Each time they have won a throw-in near the final third, Harmanjot Khabra takes a long throw and almost always finds Erik Paartalu. Rahul Bheke is also one with a good throw and generally finds either Paartalu or Juanan. This increases the probability of scoring from set-pieces.
The threat for Bengaluru FC from set-pieces is that most teams will prepare against them. Hyderabad FC prepared against their set-pieces and managed to keep a clean sheet. Kerala Blasters followed suit, which meant that all four of their goals came from open play.
Carles Cuadrat will have to come up with a better way to score goals rather than set-pieces, should Bengaluru FC look to add to their 2018-19 ISL title.