"A Tactical Stalemate" - Odisha FC versus Mohun Bagan SG Match Review !

Pic Courtesy : MBSG & ISL Media

The Indian Super League is in it's final leg of matches, and the race is heating up for the league shield. As many as 4 teams are still in the race to win the coveted ISL league shield and earn the distinction to represent India at Asian club competitions. All eyes were hence on the top of the table clash between Mohun Bagan and Odisha FC. Both teams were in good form, with Bagan being unbeaten under Habas so far. A full blown war was expected at the Kalinga Stadium on Saturday between two of the greatest coaches in Indian football. The game, though not entertaining from a goals' perspective, surely had enough spice, especially from the tactical view point. So, what went right and what went wrong? What are the tactical nuances both coaches displayed to get the upper hand? Keep reading!

First the starting line-up. Habas started with Vishal Kaith under the bar, with a back three of Hector Yuste, Subhasis Bose and the returning Anwar Ali. The midfield was comprised of Kauko, Tangri and Sahal. Ashis Rai and Manvir Singh were the wingers of choice, and Dimi Petratos and Armando Sadiku started upfront. A 3-5-2 which has been the norm at Bagan this season. A good formation, especially for a team looking to strike a balance between attack and defense.

Pic Courtesy : ISL Media

The game started as one expected it to be. Fast, action packed and highly intense. Bagan were looking to unleash Sadiku by playing long vertical passes, with Anwar Ali being the chief ball playing defender entrusted with this responsibility. Ashish and Manvir showed good energy in hustling up and down the pitch. But it was Odisha who had two great chances within the first 15 minutes. Isak Ralte had two chances to open the scoring, but both were thwarted away by a sturdy Vishal Kaith.

Bagan kept rotating the ball in the midfield, and came close to scoring the opener. It was the 23rd minute of the game. Ashish Rai played an excellent ball over the top of the Odisha defense, releasing Sadiku through on goal. A first time shot was there to be taken, but Sadiku took one touch too many and in the end fluffed the finish. Credit must be given to Amrinder as well for narrowing the angle as much as possible. A great chance went in the drain as Bagan kept the pressure high.

Sadiku in action. Pic Courtesy : ISL Media

Bagan came close to scoring yet again, this time in the 32nd minute. Sahal had done excellently to win the ball just outside the Odisha box and he put it on a platter for Sadiku to score, only for the Albanian to miss yet again. Amrinder did make a brilliant save, but you would expect so much more from a man who has been a regular across various European teams throughout his career.

Odisha didn't pull any punches either. Diego Mauricio and Isak Ralte came agonizingly close to opening the scoring, the former hitting the inside of the post in extra time in the first time. But neither team troubled the scorers and the game was locked at nil all. A great half of football from an entertainment perspective. Two great teams, two great managers going at each other. After all, a game of football is so much more than just goals and assists. The defenses were tight, the two goalkeepers made their fair share of saves, and all eyes were on the second half of this epic match.

Bagan's finishing didn't improve in the second half as well. Dimi made a few attempts to break the deadlock, albeit from far out. But it was that man Sadiku yet again, as he could only manage a low power shot from Joni Kauko's pass inside the box. Even Manvir fluffed his lines and skied the ball from close range. On the other side of the field, Roy Krishna turned back the years as he made a darting run down the right and unleashed a shot only to miss the target by a whisker. Bagan kept missing chances, with Manvir again at missing to hit the back of the net.

Cummings was brought on for Sadiku late in the game, and he did force a save from Amrinder in the dying minutes of the game. But that didn't help, as the game ended nil all. A result that will neither help nor do any harm to either team. Mumbai City FC would be the only team to be benefited from last night's result as they can now go top of the league with a win, having played a game less. As for Bagan, we currently sit third, just 2 points above Goa who have played a game less. Goa play Kerala on Sunday, who themselves can get back into the shield race if the win against Goa. The points difference between the top 5 teams sit at just 6 points, with every team but Odisha having played a game more (than others). No matter who wins, this will be one frantic ride.


Now let's delve into the stats from this game. Bagan created an xG of 1.28 compared to Odisha's 0.5. This was fully justified, as Bagan had 11 shots attempted, with a shot on target percentage of 36%. Odisha had a meagre 20% shots on target with 10 shots taken.

Picture Courtesy :- Total Football

The beauty and effectiveness of Bagan's three man back can be understood via Bagan's pass map. See closely, the link up between Anwar Ali and Ashish Rai on the right flank, and Subhasish Bose and Manvir Singh on the left side. This helped in progressing the ball upfront via the two wing backs. What you will also notice is, the passing demographic between Subhasish Bose and Deepak Tangri. And why is that significant? Deepak played as the anchor of the team, dropping down at the back at times when the two side centre backs progressed with the ball. Not only did this give the team a sense of security at the back, it also gave more freedom to Joni Kauko to get upfront and create. Joni can be extremely creative upfront, and Habas made this plan to get him more time and space.

The attacking momentum graph does show that Bagan had more of the ball and more attacking chances, and yet again proves the poor finishing on show. Odisha had more clear cut chances but could do anything meaningful as well. The xT numbers prove yet again that Ashis Rai, Joni Kauko and Anwar Ali were chiefly responsible in putting in the balls upfront. Infact, except Roy Krishna, no other Odisha player is in the top 5 xT list. 

Picture Courtesy :- ISL & MBSG Media

Bagan kept more of the ball with 55% of the possession. But it's not how much of the ball you have, but it's what you do with it. A popular question on social media after the game was, why does Cummings not start over Sadiku, especially in the important games. Well, everyone can have their own theories, but I'll put forth mine. Sadiku is better physically than Cummings. Cummings is a modern forward, one who comes down and links up the play with the midfielders. He dribbles and can shift to a wider area of the pitch. The idea in crunch moments of a game is to throw the ball into the mixer, or in simpler terms put the ball in the opposition box and expect a commotion of sorts to score a goal.

Sadiku with his height and power can be a great option upfront, with long balls aimed at unleashing his speed resulting in deadly counter attacks upfront. Cummings is more of an opportunistic striker, someone who knows when the chance will fall to score. The problem with Cummings is, though his finishing and link up play is miles ahead of Sadiku, there can be moments when the penalty box is deserted, simply because there's no dedicated old fashioned bull dog of a number nine. Sadiku does that, and for all his finishing worries, he is ever present in the box and is a nuisance to deal with, especially when up against beasts like Mourtada Fall.

But nothing should excuse the poor finishing we saw last nights, and urgent decisions should be made. Why was Liston dropped? Why is Thapa not starting? What is our preferred options upfront? Decisions need to be made and fast. Seven finals remain. All to win. Time to go for the kill. Time to conquer India yet again.



Vishal - 6.5
Subhasish -7.5
Hector -7
Anwar - 6
Ashish -7
Deepak -7
Kauko - 6
Sahal - 6.5
Manvir - 6.5
Dimitri - 6.5
Sadiku - 5


Jason - 6
Abhishek - 6 
Thapa - 6

Away Support. Pic Courtesy : ISL Media

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