AFC Asian Cup 2019: As India gear up for continental challenge, numbers don’t paint a happy picture for Stephen Constantine's men
Lack of finishing and a shaky defence has been a problem of late for team India and going by the recent pattern, it looks like this could continue at the start of the new year.
The countdown has begun. India's AFC Asian Cup challenge is only 16 days away, and as you read this, several hours must have passed since the team's touchdown in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a preparatory camp.
Grouped alongside UAE, Bahrain and Thailand, the Blue Tigers find themselves in a far from easy qualification scenario. While coach Stephen Constantine believes the team "has prepared the best they can", the outcome could be proven not good enough looking at the recent performance of the squad members.
To begin with, out of the 28-member initial squad, only eight players belong to the teams which have claimed the top four spots in the Indian Super League (ISL). These include Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (all Bengaluru FC), Amrinder Singh, Subhasish Bose (both Mumbai City FC), Jackichand Singh, Manvir Singh (both FC Goa) and Rowllin Borges (NorthEast United). Amongst these, not all players are first-team regulars as Manvir has come off the bench more often than not. This is a cause for concern.
Further, let's have a look at the individual performance of all 28 players by their positions. First up analyzing the last line of defence, things look comparatively better in this department than other positions. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Amrinder Singh, the first and second choice goalkeepers, have kept four and five cleansheets respectively in the league so far. Amrinder has the most number of saves (34) to his name while Gurpreet (28) stands fifth on the list.
Looking at the goalkeeper leaderboard, numbers suggest that the two custodians have performed nearly as expected. A little below the two are the rest of the options in goal — Arindam Bhattacharya and Vishal Kaith. Arindam has a decent 28 saves to his name, whereas Kaith has 14 but in four matches, as opposed to the 11 to 12 matches played by the others.
The above table suggests that Gurpreet has performed the best to what was expected from him, followed by Amrinder and others. Looking at the last column, it would be safe to say Gurpreet is a reliable pick as the last man in defence but things won't be easy for him in UAE as India's defenders aren't as dependable.
Here comes the trouble. Out of India's current back-four, namely Pritam Kotal, Anas Edathodika, Sandesh Jhingan and Subhasish Bose, only Bose has been consistent. Kotal finds himself in the team which has conceded the second-most goals (21). Anas and Jhingan come next, with Kerala Blasters sitting third from bottom having conceded 20 goals. To add to it, Anas has featured in just five matches, owing to his injury.
From others selected in the defensive unit, Lalruatthara too suffers the same misery as Kerala teammates Jhingan and Anas, and the left-back has appeared in nine out of a possible 12 matches. Narayan Das, having played just one match lesser than the Delhi's 12 total so far, falls in the same bracket as teammate Kotal for a disappointing defensive display this ISL season.
Pune City's Sarthak Golui has played half as many games as the rest (6), and Salam Ranjan Singh has appeared just twice for East Bengal in the I-League. Clearly, the majority of the defenders have had a season to forget so far. This goes to show the weakness in India's backline, which could be humiliated at the continental level.
Moving forward to the midfield, India has plenty of options — mostly young yet productive. The Indian team usually plays a five-man midfield which is split into a double pivot and a three-man unit upfront. Going by the past results and performances, Pronay Halder and Anirudh Thapa could be chosen to play deep. Rowllin Borges would be the closest contender for the position.
Thapa is a part of the defending champions Chennaiyin who sit at the bottom of the league standings. Struggling in every sense of the word, the youngster will look for redemption in the Gulf next month. As for Halder, although ATK sit out of the top four, the defensive midfielder boasts a good individual record. Same goes for Borges, who ties Halder for the number of interceptions made this season.
Amongst the wingers and creative midfielders, India have five options: Udanta Singh, Jackichand Singh, Halicharan Narzary, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Ashique Kuruniyan. Usually, Udanta and Narzary start on the flanks, with Sunil Chhetri playing in the heart of the midfield. While Udanta has been involved in the playmaking at Bengaluru and has goals and assists to his name, Narzary's records don't look good. Kerala have struggled to put up a competitive display in terms of attacking football this season and this is reflected in the numbers for him.
Jackichand Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan have decent numbers to boast and could thus be a good inclusion for adding attacking impetus, coming off the bench. Delhi Dynamos' Lallianzuala Chhangte leads the goals chart here, mostly because the youngster has been played further up the pitch.
Lastly, let's address India's forwards. Be ready to face worrisome trends, again. Numbers suggest that India's heavy reliance on Chhetri could prove to be harmful as his fellow strikers have been nowhere close to being impressive or impactful. Apart from the Bengaluru talisman, Constantine has chosen Balwant Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Manvir Singh, Sumeet Passi and Farukh Choudhary.
The Jamshedpur boys have two goals each to their name, Balwant and Manvir have one to theirs and Jeje? The Mizo sniper has none.
The shots on target make the picture clearer: no striker is close to Chhetri, let alone at par.
Of the six strikers, three have scored goals lesser than what was expected. Three of six strikers, which accounts for half of the strike force.
Numbers may or may not tell the whole story. But they aren't narrating a false one. Lack of finishing and a shaky defence has been a problem of late for team India and going by the recent pattern, it looks like this could continue at the start of the new year.
Data sourced from:
Indian Super League (ISL) website statistics zone: https://www.indiansuperleague.com/stats
Grey Area Analytics: https://www.greyareaanalytics.com/
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