East Bengal face a daunting task in their AFC Cup semi-final second leg against holders Kuwait SC as they must overturn a two-goal deficit to become the first Indian club to reach the final. Sportskeeda lists the five things that they must do to cause one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history.
Get your team selection and tactics right
The best feature of Marcos Falopa’s reign at East Bengal so far has been his inspired substitutions with players coming off the bench and scoring in four of the last five games. But the situation in this tie requires Falopa to get his team selection and tactics spot on from the very first whistle because it might be too late to make changes. The Brazilian has to take key decisions at right back as Naoba Singh is out of form so he has to choose between the inexperienced but natural fullback Abhishek Das and the experienced but not fully fit Harmanjot Singh Khabra. More importantly, the 64-year-old must pick a system that doesn’t allow Kuwait SC to overrun his midfield so Edeh Chidi should be employed in a withdrawn role to do a job on Kuwait SC’s defensive midfielder Shereedah Al Shereedah. Otherwise like Dempo, the Kuwait champions will have it easy.
Stop the service to Issam Jemaa
Tunisian international Issam Jemaa is undoubtedly Kuwait SC’s danger man as he is capable of both scoring and beating defenders in one-on-one situations. At this level, it won’t be unfair to say that he is unplayable inside the box. So the key will be to completely limit the service to him. While Uga Okpara or Arnab Mondal will have to keep a close eye on Jemaa all the time, the players in front and around the East Bengal central defenders must stop the ball from getting to the Tunisian striker. If the service to Jemaa is stopped, then half of East Bengal’s job will be done. It is a daunting task but not impossible and will come down to East Bengal not giving away possession easily and getting bodies back when they lose the ball so that the Kuwait SC midfielders and withdrawn forward Rogerinho don’t get time and space to find Jemaa.
Don’t panic and go all out from the start
One of the main reasons why East Bengal conceded four in the first leg was their naivety. Down 1-0 after 18 minutes, East Bengal looked to chase the game as if the tie was into the last minute with as many as seven or eight players joining in attack. As a result they were punished in the transitions by Kuwait SC’s swift passing and clinical finishing. The situation in the second leg demands two goals at least but it only takes a second to score so East Bengal don’t really have to go all out from the very start. The red-and-gold brigade have to pick their moments to break forward in numbers and at the same time will have to work extra hard to immediately win the ball back once they lose it. They certainly have to create more chances and convert at least two but if they get caught on the break and concede early, then the task will get even more difficult.
Use the flanks
As pointed out by Sportskeeda while analysing Kuwait SC before the first leg, the only real weakness that the two-time AFC Cup champions could have is defending on the flanks. Since they play a diamond in midfield, there are no wide medios to track back so when the fullbacks are caught upfield in attack there is space to exploit. One of East Bengal’s two goals in the first leg came when Lalrindika Ralte came inside from the left flank and scored. James Moga and Edeh Chidi have the beating of each of the Kuwait SC defenders on the air so East Bengal should look to get in as many crosses as possible from the flanks because their wide men are likely to find themselves one-one-one with Kuwait SC defenders. For all their quality going forward, when they are not in possession Kuwait SC look vulnerable on the wide areas. East Bengal must make the most of it.
Avoid the offside trap
All the three goals that East Bengal conceded in the first half of the first leg was when Kuwait SC successfully broke the offside trap. While the first goal was more down to the quality of a long cross-field pass that didn’t give the East Bengal defence time to move up together, the remaining two were down to a bit of immaturity from the defenders in trying to play a high line when it wasn’t necessary. Falopa should advise his team to drop deeper and avoid the offside trap completely because it is always a risk against a quality side like Kuwait SC as their passing and off the ball movement is quite accurate. East Bengal must not drop too deep and invite pressure but they don’t have to press too high up the pitch and should try and follow the runners instead of stepping up to play the offside.