It is not often that you draw lessons from a dull display, but Gianluca Zambrotta would have reasons to be pleased about Delhi Dynamos' performance in a goalless draw against Kerala Blasters on Sunday. It was not just about gaining a point away from home — of course, it does help Dynamos take four points out a possible six ahead of a couple of home games — the start has been impressive, but it does not have to do with the league table alone.
For the second game running, Dynamos' defence was a reliable unit. Zambrotta's side seems to have dealt well with Anas Edathodika's absence. There is still no concrete news about the central defender's recovery from his groin injury, but on current evidence, Anas could be allowed the time he needs to fully recuperate. Lalchhawnkima has been an able replacement in a well-drilled defence. Going into the season, there were a few doubts over Zambrotta's managerial ability, but the Italian has made a fine start.
The work done in training sessions was perceptible throughout the match in Kochi. Although Dynamos were on the backfoot from the opening minute, there were very few clear cut chances. The visitors maintained a compact shape and forced Blasters to push wide in their search for space. There was hardly any room to play through the middle.
This made for a turgid encounter, but Dynamos stuck to their plans. As the match wore on, there was a sense that Zambrotta's charges may sneak three points, but the effort of playing a second match in four days under humid conditions told on them.
Skipper and marquee player Florent Malouda marshalled the side well. He finished the match with the most touches on the ball (62) for Delhi and ensured possession was well-circulated. Although his teammates could not match the quality of his passing, the side did not suffer for a lack of effort.
Upfront as well, Zambrotta made a shrewd choice. Richard Gadze was benched and Senegal's Badara Badji took his place. The latter scored after coming on as a substitute in the 3-1 win over Chennaiyin in the season opener. However, it was his physical attributes that led to his selection, according to Zambrotta. "I chose a different striker because he (Badji) is a bit taller and stronger," the manager said after the match.
Badji certainly left an imprint on the contest, as he grappled for space in his battles with Kerala's central defenders, Cedric Hengbart and Sandesh Jhingan. Although the Senegalese failed to score, he lurked menacingly around the box. It would not be a surprise if he starts more games for Dynamos, especially when his side needs a physical presence upfront.
But the the most pleasing takeaway from this match for Zambrotta would have been watching his side play a different style, and yet achieve a credible result. Against Chennaiyin, one saw a Dynamos side full of attacking verve. The visitors grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, stunning Marco Materazzi's men with their pace and guile in the final third. Defensively as well, there were few gaps for Chennaiyin to exploit.
Against Kerala Blasters, though, the Dynamos displayed a more reserved outlook. While the defensive sheen of the side remained the same, they didn't choose to force the issue going forward. Perhaps that was a consequence of playing in a draining atmosphere. Furthermore, Blasters needed a win and Dynamos were happy to sit back. Once the opening minutes had passed, however, it was clear that the Steve Coppell-managed team will seek to dominate proceedings. Dynamos were happy to play second fiddle and looked to hit on the counter.
Playing in front of a 55,000-strong crowd filled with home fans, the visitors chose to let the match settle, looking to deny Blasters the space they so desperately sought. While the occasional chance was given away, Dynamos managed to frustrate the hosts. It was a performance that reflected an awareness of the nature of this competition.
One can see that Zambrotta is approaching the ISL as a long tournament, and not just like any other league. Teams that are flexible, can play different formations, and approach games in a variety of ways are likely to excel in this format. It's not about sticking to the tried and tested. An away draw, in this context, carries immense value. Going into the next game, at home against North East United FC, Dynamos will not be under undue pressure. It is simply a case of building on the substantial gains that have been made in the first two matches. The picture looks rosy for Zambrotta and his side.