ISL Final: Shambolic defending by Rahul Bheke gifts Chennaiyin FC two goals

The 27-year-old defender couldn’t keep a close eye on his man as Mailson Alves headed home twice in the first half…

When Chennaiyin FC won 2-1 at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore back in December last year, it was Rahul Bheke who conceded a needless free-kick by fouling Jeje when he was miles away from the Bengaluru goal. The resultant free-kick was whipped into the box by Rene Mihelic and Dhanpal Ganesh coolly headed home by jumping ahead of Braulio Nobrega.

In the following game, Bheke gave away a penalty by bringing down Sameehg Doutie inside the box. Trindade Goncalves stepped up and made it 1-0 to hand Bengaluru their second home defeat of the season.

There were some other performances too where Bheke wasn’t at his best, especially in the 4-3 away defeat to FC Goa where Manuel Lanzarote took him to the cleaners.

Credit to Albert Roca for realizing that Bheke wasn’t doing a good job as a centre-back and so he opted to start with Juanan Antonio and John Johnson in defence.

Their next defeat was away to Delhi Dynamos where they were completely outclassed. Mind you, Roca once again reverted back to Bheke and Johnson as centre-backs with Juanan being rested given that they had a host of games coming up.

“I don't think we need to think too much about that game (2-1 defeat to Chennai at Kanteerava). They are a strong team who work really hard on their set pieces,” said Sunil Chhetri at the pre-match conference before the final on Saturday. 

While the Bengaluru skipper was right in his assessment of Chennaiyin FC and their strengths but they made an error in not taking the lessons from the last defeat to the very same opposition.

Mailson Alves Bengaluru FC Chennaiyin FC 2017-18 Indian Super League Final

If you look at Mailson Alves’ two goals, the defender marking the Brazilian was none other than Bheke. For the first goal, Lenny Rodrigues and Bheke were keeping a close watch on Henrique Sereno and Alves. Sereno brilliantly held off the two Bengaluru players to allow Alves to sneak in from behind and head home.

For the second goal by Alves, he got away from his marker Bheke and got on the end of the delivery by Gregory Nelson. Juanan did come close to challenging Alves with Bheke being nowhere to be seen near his man.

This isn’t a stinging piece on Bheke. Certainly not but it is about laying all the facts together. Throughout the season, the former FC Pune City defender has been guilty of making crucial errors at the back which have been overlooked.

One needs to question why was Bheke and Lenny being asked to mark two of the most lethal headers in Chennaiyin FC team, namely Sereno and Alves, from set-pieces.

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It was only after giving away two goals that Johnson was deployed to mark Alves from set-pieces. Sereno was still in fact being kept in check by Rodrigues!

Schoolboy errors in defence led to Bengaluru FC’s downfall in the final. They had a brilliant season as debutants but didn’t show enough gumption to clinch the title on their home soil. It’s time to introspect on what went wrong. Next time certainly they shouldn’t ask Bheke to mark one of the most potent attacking threats from set-pieces.