A goal, an assist and an entire stadium chanting on his 'genius'– Erik Paartalu could not have hoped for a better return to football and the Indian Super League (ISL) after missing the first three games because of an injury.
The Australian midfielder opened the scoring in Bengaluru’s 3-0 win over Chennaiyin FC with a simple header to Dimas Delgado’s delivery from the corner. Later, he played a sublime aerial through-ball to provide Thongkhosiem Haokip for his first goal of the season.
Paartalu is one of the most important players in the squad and on Sunday he showed why. His goals and assists are merely bonuses, given his primary role is to set the tempo at the centre of the pitch, circulate possession and prevent the opposition from breaking into attack quickly. His partnership with Dimas helps Bengaluru seamlessly switch from defence to attack.
“We play differently when Erik (Paartalu) is on the team. He is one of the most important players in the team,” said Bengaluru skipper Sunil Chhetri after the game.
That Carles Cuadrat’s men play differently when Paartalu is in the team was evident on the pitch against Chennaiyin. Although the crux remained the same, the presence of Paartalu had a huge influence on how Bengaluru operate in midfield.
Dimas was allowed the luxury to venture forward, play more progressive passes and take a few risks. The defensive workload in Juanan Gonzalez was also reduced, thanks to Paartalu’s ability to read the game and anticipate the moves of the opposition.
No player on the pitch registered more interceptions (four) than the Australian. Breaking the opposition’s play and transitioning into attack almost immediately is an attribute that most coaches would love to have in a defensive midfielder and clearly, Paartalu excelled in this aspect.
This was one of Bengaluru’s best performance in the Cuadrat-era and the 33-year-old played such a crucial role, despite returning to the field after about nine months.
There is still a lot of work to be done and the tools in attack need sharpening. The win arrived against one of the worst sides in the last two seasons at possibly their lowest point. But Paartalu’s return has surely provided his side with a massive boost after a tough start to the season.