After Bengaluru FC’s goalless stalemate against Chennaiyin FC on Sunday, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu became the first goalkeeper in the Indian Super League (ISL) to keep 10 clean-sheets in the league phase of a single season.
That the Blues have conceded just nine goals in 16 games is phenomenal and has more than made up for their problems at the other end of the pitch. Head coach Carles Cuadrat has experimented heavily all over the park and the back-four was not spared either. But two things have always been constant – Gurpreet between the sticks and Juanan Gonzalez in the left centre-back position, proving to be a huge obstacle for the rival forwards.
That Hugo Boumous, Amine Chermiti and Ferran Corominas are the only three players from the top 10 goalscorers this season to have scored against Bengaluru says a lot about the Spaniard’s consistency, composure and ability to step up in the big occasions.
Nerijus Valskis, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Aridane Santana, Sergio Castel, Messi Bouli, Rafael Crivellaro and Roy Krishna have all tried adding to their tally but could not score a single goal against the defending champions.
Corominas needed a penalty to break his long-standing goal drought against Bengaluru. Juanan has always been his countryman’s kryptonite, and the dynamics did not change throughout the 180 plus minutes he featured in against the Blues this season.
Seven goals in his last four games and an entire stadium chanting his name, Valskis arrived at the Southern Derby in tremendous momentum. But Juanan ensured his participation in the fixture was minimal.
Bengaluru’s defence as a unit deserves praise for the commendable record but the Spaniard has stood out, and by some distance.
The fact that he is a good reader of the game and situations makes Juanan a hard defender to shake off. He is not the fastest on the pitch and it was most obvious when he was up against Krishna. However, astute positioning makes up for this more often than not.
The best aspect of the Spaniard’s game is that he hardly puts a toe out of line and leaves no margin for an error that could lead to a goal.
Defensive excellence aside, Juanan’s passing range has also helped Bengaluru break lines more so on the counter. A lurking goal-threat during set-pieces is yet another arrow in his quiver. His lone goal against Odisha that fetched his side two points could prove vital in the conclusion of the league phase, especially with Bengaluru suffering an inferior head-to-head record against Mumbai City FC.
But they could still salvage an Asian spot from the season by winning the ISL title. Despite playing below their standards for the majority of the season, the defending champions are still a force to be reckoned with, thanks to their water-tight defence.
The 32-year-old is suspended from Bengaluru’s next ISL game against Kerala Blasters. But they will require him to do what he does best in the remainder of the season. If they defend the title, Juanan would make more than a fair case for being the main reason behind it.