News Live Scores
Indian Super League

ISL 2017-18: Former Barcelona man Albert Roca's preference for set-pieces paying off in Bengaluru

03:21 GMT+3 16/03/2018
Albert Roca
Bengaluru FC's Spanish coach has made his emphasis on dead-balls no secret and it has paid him dividends....

In a coaching career now spanning two decades, Albert Roca has seen it all. The 55-year-old started his coaching journey from Spanish fifth division side CE Europa in the city of Barcelona, his hometown. That journey has taken him across town to Catalonian giants Barcelona itself before ultimately setting up shop at Bengaluru in India.

Most of Roca’s years though, had been spent at the Nou Camp as assistant manager to Frank Rijkaard. In his five years there, Barcelona won two LaLiga titles along with capturing their second Champions League title.

Now at the helm of affairs at Bengaluru FC, the Spanish coach finds his side on the brink of their maiden Indian Super League (ISL) title in their very first season in the competition.

Only John Gregory’s Chennaiyin FC stands between Roca’s men and the coveted title. Apart from finishing top two in the league stages, both sides have led the way when it has come to set-pieces too.

While the Englishman’s emphasis on maximising dead-ball situations is all too natural with his numerous coaching stints back home, Roca’s preference for them is a little offbeat given his Barcelona roots. From a side like Barcelona who much prefer to walk the ball into the net with some mesmerizing interchanges from their technically brilliant players, Roca’s Bengaluru have not shied away getting their hands dirty in the set-piece melee.

How important set-pieces were going to be in Bengaluru’s offense was demonstrated in their opening two matches of the campaign against Mumbai City and the Delhi Dynamos. Three of the Blues’ goals in the two victories came from set-pieces.

The variations across the three goals were also striking. The first against Mumbai came from a short corner when the set-piece taker Edu Garcia exchanged a neat one-two with Udanta Singh before unleashing a fierce shot that sneaked in past the near post.

The second against Delhi saw Garcia deliver a clever free-kick to find an unmarked Harmanjot Khabra at the far-post. The right-back headed the ball back into the danger area where Erik Paartalu was on hand to deliver the finishing touch.

The third against the same side came through a Garcia corner once again but this time it was a fairly routine one. Some poor defending by the Dynamos saw the ball find its way to Paartalu at the near post and he made no mistake in doubling his tally for the night.

The Australian midfielder has been a worthwhile buy for the Spaniard in that regard, chipping in with three set-piece goals. Another of Roca’s many compatriots at the club, Juanan Antonio, has also bagged one goal from a header via another Garcia free-kick.

The Spaniard has now moved to the Chinese League One but he has been the provider for all of Bengaluru’s set-pieces goals in the campaign. Another vital aspect behind the former I-League side’s lethalness in that department can be attributed to, in Roca’s own words, his trusted deputy and compatriot Carles Cuadrat.

Cuadrat had left the club owing to some health problems towards the end of last year but rejoined Roca just prior to the play-off ties against FC Pune City. The two Spaniards have worked together before when Roca was in charge of the El Salvador national team in 2014-15 before packing their bags for the Bengaluru sojourn.

Roca has credited Cuadrat on record as handing out the set-piece ‘instructions’ for the side. Perhaps the No2 is indeed the mastermind behind the side’s potency in that aspect. That his absence from the club has coincided with the set-pieces goals drying out too is notable too.

While the aerial threat from central defence and midfield (Paartalu) is highly prominent, star forward Sunil Chhetri is no slouch with his head either, making Roca’s emphasis on dead-balls a rational tactic.

While still retaining some of that Spanish flair in attack in his side, Roca has turned Bengaluru into an all-weather and all-round team with their set-piece threat. That has seen the Spaniard succeed where others from his country like Miguel Angel Portugal and Sergio Lobera have eventually fallen short.

Set pieces have been the bane for the former all season while the latter found it tough to handle too, as evidenced in the play-off defeat to Chennaiyin.

Roca might have Cuadrat to thank mostly for this stellar job, but he has to be given credit for being willing to play in not just the ‘Barcelona’ way. Now reunited with his trusted deputy, he will be hoping to create some more dead-ball magic in the highly anticipated clash on Saturday.