Australian midfielder Erik Paartalu has been an integral part of the Bengaluru FC squad since last season and is one of the most important players in the side.
'Big E’ as he is fondly called by Bengaluru fans, Paartalu has been a towering figure in the Blues' midfield. His services at the centre of the park have been indispensable, be it under Albert Roca or Carles Cuadrat, which prompted the management to offer him a contract extension last summer.
He made 18 appearances in the previous season and until his back-injury in February, the midfielder appeared in 14 matches in the ongoing campaign. He has completed 56 passes per game with an accuracy of almost 80 per cent. With 45 tackles and 21 interceptions, he has carried out his defensive responsibilities with elan as well.
Unfortunately for Bengaluru, Paartalu has now been sidelined with an injury which he suffered on February 9 in a game against Chennaiyin FC. The management were forced to seek a replacement for him and Spanish midfielder Alejandro Barrera Garcia was brought in on a short term deal.
The Blues boss Carles Cuadrat has also expressed his concern when he said, “Losing Erik Paartalu ahead of games that will decide the season for us has been a big blow. He was crucial in our midfield and his winning character helps us in the tough games. But we have to accept the circumstances and move on.”
Paartalu's dirty job in midfield allows Dimas Delgado a lot of liberty to manoeuvre in the attacking third.
In Paartalu’s absence, Harmanjot Khabra has attempted to step in at times. Even though Khabra offered the best he could as a deep-lying midfielder, he has struggled to fill in the big boots of the Australian.
Paartalu is also threatening in set-pieces and has an eye for key goals. He was instrumental for the Blues in both the games against ATK this season.
Against Delhi Dynamos at the Kanteerava, the visitors ran riot and exposed chinks in the Bengaluru defence. It was thanks to some wastefulness from the Delhi forwards that Bengaluru survived at half-time with the scoreline reading 0-0. It was the introduction of Paartalu in the second half which turned the tide as the former Jeonbuk Motors midfielder stopped their creative players from getting on the ball and thus, slowed the pace of the game
Though Barrera has been roped in as cover, it is always a gamble when you bring in a new player on a short term deal. The player has just joined the club and it will be unfair to demand great performances right from the word go, like how Xisco Hernandez struggled initially before finding his bearings.
Only time will tell how costly the Aussie's absence will prove to Bengaluru FC, especially with the impending play-offs.