Not too long ago, the mantle of the best attack in the league rested with Sergio Lobera’s FC Goa. His offence, though, hasn’t stood up to the test of times and it is Albert Roca’s Bengaluru who now find themselves worthy of that honour.
Having scored 31 times this season in 16 games at a ratio of almost two goals a game, the league leaders have taken to their new surroundings in their maiden season in the ISL like a duck to water. So have their fellow new entrants in Jamshedpur, though Steve Coppell’s men had to wait till their fourth match of their season to notch their first win.
Finding themselves in the fourth position currently, Jamshedpur’s success, in contrast, has been built on the foundation of a solid defence.
While both sides find themselves in the upper echelons of the league after 16 games each, their respective styles and philosophies have been poles apart compared to the other.
Both have been built in the image of their respective coaches. Coppell remains a stickler for the old British school of thought when it comes to football while Roca swears by the more modern Spanish possession-based system.
Their philosophies, though different, have been successful and see both teams sit inside the top-four.
With the Men in Steel having conceded only 13 goals in their games so far, it is no open secret that Coppell’s philosophy starts with plugging the holes at the back of the ship first and foremost. It is primarily about not wanting to lose compared to Roca’s philosophy of taking the initiative in games.
What is more interesting though, is Jamshedpur’s attacking statistics. Having scored only 16 goals in the competition so far, only one more than bottom-placed Delhi Dynamos, one would think that Jamshedpur have struggled on the offensive side of things.
However, despite having a goal difference of only three, Coppell’s men have managed to eke out seven wins. Small margins have defined the economic degree holder’s tenure at the Jamshedpur club.
None of their 16 games have been decided by a margin greater than a goal. In contrast, nine of Bengaluru’s 16 matches have been decided by a margin of at least two goals. While Roca’s football relies on their attacking prowess, none of that matters for Coppell’s men.
Jamshedpur have not enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in any of their 16 matches which is a remarkable stat. It, in fact, tells you all you need to know about Coppell and his strategy. The Englishman is prepared to let his team play second fiddle while the opposition takes charge with his team’s organization and structure behind the ball being of paramount importance. Attacking has been more of a secondary thought to Coppell but to be fair to him, his methods have fetched results more often than not. It has especially paid dividends against sides who love to keep the ball, namely Bengaluru and Delhi.
In the reverse tie between the two sides in Bengaluru towards the end of 2017, it was Jamshedpur who prevailed over the Blues despite managing to control only 32 per cent of the possession. They have also done the double over the Dynamos despite letting Miguel Angel Portugal’s men control proceedings. In their sole match against Goa away from home, they went down in a close encounter, in which the result was influenced by refereeing blunders.
Roca has, on the other hand, looked to take the game to the opposition with a more fluid style but it is not to say that he has ignored his side’s defensive shape. Despite all their attacking intent, Bengaluru have been more than solid at the back themselves, conceding only 16. That has been the main difference between his side and the uber-attacking FC Goa who have simply failed to find the right balance between offence and defence.
Having conceded 12 goals in their first 10 games this season, there has been a notable tightening of the Bengaluru’s defence in the last six matches which has seen them win five and draw one. Only four goals have been conceded in this period which has included clashes with top teams like FC Pune City, Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa.
So while Bengaluru remain dominant in attack, they have more than held their own defensively as well. While Sunday’s clash will be tagged as a contest between the best defence and best attack, it will actually pit the most solid back-line against perhaps the most well-balanced outfit.
It was the Englishman’s brand of football that prevailed narrowly over his Spanish counterpart’s in a close contest earlier this season. It will once again be close when the two meet on Sunday, for there is simply no other way that Jamshedpur knows.