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ISL 2020-21: Defensive solidity the need of the hour for East Bengal coach Robbie Fowler

The Red and Golds do not have the right personnel to play an attacking style of football…

It hasn’t been the best of starts for East Bengal in their maiden Indian Super League (ISL) season. The Kolkata club are yet to register a win in their first six matches and are placed at the bottom of the league table with just two points.

The Red and Golds have already conceded 11 goals and have managed to score just three. It took them a whopping 350 minutes to score their first goal in the ISL.

The above statistic gives us a fair idea that the Red and Golds do not have the firepower to score goals at will. The likes of Balwant Singh, CK Vineeth and Jeje Lalpekhlua have not really impressed as the main striker. In fact, after running of options, coach Robbie Fowler fielded former Irish international Anthony Pilkington as the team’s number 9, who has played predominantly as winger all his career, in their last match against Kerala Blasters.

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The East Bengal coach has experimented with different permutations and combinations in the six matches the team played so far. They’ve played with a back three and also back four at times. While they played 476 passes against ATK Mohun Bagan and kept 59 per cent ball possession, against Mumbai City, Fowler’s men played 365 passes and had 46 per cent possession.

Fowler has also been forced to take a pragmatic approach against Jamshedpur FC. After going pointless in their first four matches, East Bengal were, for most parts, desperate for at least a draw against Jamshedpur. The early sending off of Eugeneson Lyngdoh actually played a key role in that decision. East Bengal did well to hold off Jamshedpur and gain a point. 

In their last game against Kerala Blasters, Fowler was once again seen focusing on defensive solidity and rely on counters while going forward. From one such counter, the Red and Golds had managed to take the lead. The first half goal had made Fowler even more defensive and they almost held on, only for Jeakson Singh’s last-gasp goal to spoil their party.

Sahal Abdul Samad, Kerala Blasters vs East Bengal

Robbie Fowler doesn’t have the personnel to keep the ball and play a possession-based game. In the last game against Kerala Blasters, they started the tie by pressing high and winning the ball high up the field to launch quick counterattacks. 

In the three games where they saw more of the ball – ATK Mohun Bagan, NorthEast United and Hyderabad FC – it was more a case of the opponent allowing them to have more possession. Antonio Habas lined-up his team to hit on counterattacks, NorthEast United are known to sit back and play direct while Hyderabad only had three foreigners against them which made keeping the ball difficult.

Even when they do have more possession, they aren’t able to penetrate, nor do they have a proper number nine, and in good form, to hold the ball and bring the midfielders into play. They need to focus on defensive solidity and ensure that they do not give away cheap goals, as has been witnessed in their games against Kerala and Hyderabad.

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