The top-scoring Indian in the Indian Super League (ISL), Sunil Chhetri, has been a key influence on the pitch for second-time ISL finalists Bengaluru FC ever since the club’s inception.
First season in a new league was bound to invite challenges, but the Blues breezed past them in the 2017-18 season thanks to strike duo of Miku and Chhetri. The pair had formed a formidable partnership and went on to score 29 goals between them.
It’s not surprising that Bengaluru’s attack has not touched the bar it set for itself last season. Miku was injured for a huge part of the season and Chhetri has looked off-colour at times compared to his brilliant self.
The Bengaluru skipper has scored nine goals this season so far, five less than what he managed to garner last season. He also underwent a dry spell where he failed to register his name on the score-sheet for seven games.
Goals aside, the 34-year-old has failed to stamp his authority on the pitch like he usually does. He has not been his usual game-changing self this year.
Chhetri’s role in build-up play has changed too. Last season, he was involved much more and popped up with a dribble on the wings or an incisive pass from the centre of the pitch at will. However, he has not been able to replicate the same this time around.
Take the case of Bengaluru’s play-off game against NorthEast United. Chhetri was anonymous in the game before he converted a one-on-one with the opposition keeper in injury time in the second leg.
The change in philosophy from Albert Roca’s free-flowing football to Carles Cuadrat’s rather pragmatic approach has placed some defensive burden on Chhetri. This could be part of the reason why he has not been able to unleash himself on the opposition defence.
All said, at the age of 34, Chhetri is still the top-scoring Indian in the competition this season. The Indian international has not been at his been at his 100 per cent this season. But he will need to be at his 200 per cent in order to help Bengaluru past Goa and to a maiden ISL trophy.