It is not often you see Bengaluru FC's dominance and comfort on the ball threatened but Chennai City delivered the stuff of champions in the 2019 Super Cup quarterfinal clash at the Kalinga Stadium.
After a phenomenal title-winning I-League campaign, Akbar Nawas' team lived upto the hype when they defeated FC Pune City 4-2 in the previous round. But the real test was always going to be against the Indian Super league (ISL) champions.
Much was expected, in terms of contest, as the winners of ISL and I-League clashed but the Blues weren't at their best. They have been one of the best teams in India but on Thursday, Chennai City's gameplan worked wonders.
At one end, Chennai's all-India defence, featuring Tarif Akhand and Gourav Bora as centre-backs and missing the influential Robert Eslava, excelled against Miku and Sunil Chhetri. Whenever the Blues got past the organized wall of four, goalkeeper Mauro Boerchio's brilliant outing in between the sticks meant Blues just could not find a way in.
It was bad mix-up at the other end that paved way for the first goal. Harmanjot Khabra and Rahul Bheke stared at each other and failed to clear a long ball from Tarif and Nestor Gordillo did what he has proved to be really good at. He took the ball into the box from the left flank and finished the move with aplomb.
Bengaluru's first-team was unchanged from the ISL final win against FC Goa but they couldn't repeat their dogged display that silenced Ferran Corominas and co. Khabra paid the price for a foolhardy attempt to intercepet Sandro's ball to Pedro Manzi and the I-League topscorer easily curled the ball past Bheke and Gurpreet into the top right corner. Once again, it was a good finish but the defending made it so much easier for Chennai City who were playing with only four foreign players.
Chhetri did score a free header to create hope of a comeback but it was from a corner-kick as Chennai City shut down the flanks and denied Bengaluru's wide players any freedom to attack. Ajith Kamaraj kept Udanta's forays in check and Edwin Vanspaul did a similar job on the other flank with Chhetri.
Both Chennai City fullbacks are comfortable on the ball and can play out from tight spaces. After the game, Akbar Nawas said, "Edwin is a attacking midfielder and right winger, Ajit is a central midfielder. We needed midfielders to do a job in that role.
"It is not that I see Ajit and Edwin as fullbacks but the kind of game we play, our team needed midfielders over there; who know how to come into the centre of the field and play. Also, the midfielders covered for them whenever necessary. That is how I want to build my team."
Chennai City had a plan and they executed it very well. They had to do their fair share of defending against Bengaluru but they did it well. In a way, they did what Bengaluru did so well against FC Goa in the ISL final. Nobody really stood out for the ISL champions and Harmanjot Khabra, who escaped a red card for a horrific tackle on Boerchio in the first-half, had a game to forget.
In fact, they had beaten Bengaluru FC in the pre-season as well at the Kanteerava.
Akbar Nawas' team has been highly impressive all season and their latest win only strengthened their case to remain a top-tier team. They might well have cemented their status as the 'Champions of India'.