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ISL 2018-19: Juanan Gonzalez - The underrated entity of Bengaluru FC's defence

8:19 AM IST 19/03/19
Bengaluru v Goa, Indian Super League
The Spaniard has been a key part of Bengaluru FC's success this season ...

Bengaluru FC became the first team to win the Indian Super League (ISL) title after topping the league table at the end of 18 games.

The likes of Sunil Chhetri, Miku, Udanta Singh, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Rahul Bheke were showered with compliments for an incredible show throughout the tournament. Yet, one name has always skipped the lips of critics and pundits alike, the heart of Bengaluru’s defence – Juanan Gonzalez.

It was never going to be easy for the Spaniard, who lost his partner-in-defence John Johnson to ATK at the start of the season. This meant that the pressure to lead the backline was mostly on him and he responded to the call of duty.

His presence has – in a way – helped Nishu Kumar improve significantly. The left-back was free to push up and overlap at every given instance. This was only done with the assurance of having Gonzalez being around to clean up the mess if needed.

Another hurdle to Bengaluru’s path to success popped up in the form of an injury to Erik Paartalu during their away tie against Chennaiyin FC. With the Australian out for the rest of the season, the defence lost a precious screen who had played a massive role in maintaining the team's shape.

Alex Barrera was roped in as a like-for-like replacement and Dimas Delgado was forced to drop deeper. In the process, the defensive burden on Gonzalez increased too. Barrera had problems gelling in with the team’s style of play and Delgado – for all his creative prowess – is just not a defensive midfielder.

Yet, Gonzalez dealt with this challenge well and ensured that the team kept its shape in all the important games that followed.

Gonzalez’s positioning, incredible anticipation and reading of the game allows him to always be one step ahead of the opponent striker. The fact that he kept out Ferran Corominas – arguably the best player in the league – for about 300 minutes this season needs more attention.

Like Sunil Chhetri said, the defence won Bengaluru the ISL title. At the heart of defence stood a dominating figure that thwarted any danger that came their way. Gonzalez was Bengaluru’s unsung hero, in every sense of the term.