ISL 2016: Delhi Dynamos' over-dependence on Marcelinho did them in against Atletico de Kolkata
Delhi Dynamos can no longer boast of invincibility. But if Zambrotta is able to turn the team's fortunes around, the loss to Atletico will be of minor significance in the longer run.
It was an issue many had identified as a potential roadblock for Delhi Dynamos. Five matches into the campaign, that pre-season apprehension does not seem unfounded. The Dynamos' goal scoring problems became evident in an otherwise impressive display against Atletico de Kolkata on Saturday, which eventually ended in a 0-1 defeat. The result will be even tougher to accept because Atletico played with 10 men for the final 20 minutes. Marcelinho's missed penalty when the score was goalless will rankle for a while.
But it was not just about the unconverted spot kick, although it was the Dynamos' best chance. There were missed efforts, scuffed shots and misplaced strikes. A stream of frustration threatened to boil over. It would have rushed past the limits once the final whistle blew.
But it is tough to see the result as a sporadic, one-off performance. There are issues within the squad; wastefulness has been a hallmark of the Dynamos in all five matches. Perhaps, the problems began before the start of the campaign itself. The Dynamos' squad overhaul before this season meant that the players responsible for the 14 of the 19 goals scored last season had moved on.
The rest of the five strikes were shared by Richard Gadze (four) and Anas Edathodika. While the latter is a central defender and is currently indisposed, the former remains an unreliable figure. His tame shot at the start of the second half was representative of the profligacy which dogs him. It does seem unlikely he will hold on to his spot for long in this side, if he does not start contributing on a frequent basis.
Manager Gianluca Zambrotta does have an option in the striking ranks who could replace Gadze. Senegal's Badara Badji has come off the bench and scored twice this season already. While Zambrotta has been keen to stress that Gadze's slight and quicker frame is more attuned to the side's tempo, his place becomes difficult to justify when he does not hit the back of the net consistently. The Ghanaian forward has scored only once this season, a goal that was clearly offside in the Dynamos' previous encounter which ended in a 3-3 draw with Mumbai City FC.
It may seem a bit rash to criticise the Dynamos' attack when the side has struck thrice in a match on two occasions this season but it's the tendency to let chances go a begging which is worrying. Kean Lewis, who did not play on Saturday, is another forward affected by the malaise. In fact, Marcelinho has been the brightest spark going forward. But as his rare miss showed against Atletico - the Brazilian had converted both of his previous penalties this season - there seems to be a growing dependence on the versatile attacker.
The solution does not seem obvious. Zambrotta has stuck to the 4-1-4-1 formation all season. A change does not seem forthcoming; only when Dynamos trailed 1-3 against Mumbai City was the strike partnership of Gadze and Badji employed. The forward pair was reunited when Zambrotta' side chased a goal against Atletico; attacking midfielder Bruno Pelissari made an appearance too. However, there is little to suggest that a tactical shift will be in place for the next match at home against FC Pune City.
There are likely to be personnel changes, though. On Saturday, there were five alterations. After the poor defensive display against Mumbai, there were three in the backline. Goalkeeper Toni Doblas came back in; Lalchhawnkima was recalled, but as a left-back, since Chinglensana Singh kept his new spot in central defence. Crucially, Marcos Tebar returned to the starting eleven as well.
The Spaniard was an influential presence in his holding midfield role. He marked Iain Hume heavily, limiting the threat of the Canadian who played as a number 10 for Atletico. Furthermore, Tebar remained a reliable passer of the ball in the middle third.
The Spaniard's display was another example of Zambrotta's effective strategic plans. Despite the struggles, his tactical nous has been one of the continuing positives for the Dynamos this season. Before the campaign, there had been doubts over the Italian manager's ability. But Zambrotta, definitely, has not been out of his depth.
However, on Saturday, the Dynamos suffered its first defeat of the campaign. Before the match, only Zambrotta's side and Atletico were the unbeaten teams in the competition. The Dynamos can no longer boast of invincibility. But if Zambrotta is able to turn the team's fortunes around, the loss to Atletico will be of minor significance in the longer run.
More importantly, it has been four matches since the Dynamos have won a match. In fact, Zambrotta's men have been waiting for three points ever since they defeated Chennaiyin 3-1 in the season opener. That performance had given rise to hope, such was the vigour demonstrated by the Dynamos. Particularly in the final third, the team from the national capital looked sharp and full of ideas. The situation looks much different now. The chances are coming but the goals are not. Zambrotta has his task cut out.
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