From the point of view of tactical evolution, football managers have mostly been obsessed with experimenting with their midfield compositions. From a default three-band 4-4-2 formation to a more frequently used 4-2-3-1 combination in recent decades, we have witnessed how midfield roles have changed.
Most champion sides boast of a robust midfield as it is at the centre of the park where the biggest games are decided. For example, in the previous edition of Indian Super League (ISL), Chennaiyin FC romped to their second title in four years riding on the back of solid performances by their midfield contingent comprising the likes of Dhanpal Ganesh, Anirudh Thapa, Raphael Augusto and Rene Mihelic. And this season, Delhi Dynamos are treading the same path of bolstering their midfield with some thoughtful additions to the squad.
Apart from snaring Bikramjit Singh and Mihelic from the defending champions, they have made a valuable addition in the overseas quota by hiring the services of Spaniards Marcos Tebar and Adria Carmona. They have also held on to their Indian core of Vinit Rai, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nandhakumar Sekar and Romeo Fernandes which testify that a lot of planning have undergone in the pre-season in a bid to turn the tables.
Although Josep Gombau did show reasonable tactical flexibility during his previous stint with Western Sydney Wanderers, the Spanish coach mostly tends to stick to either a 4-2-3-1 formation or a more attacking 4-3-3. In both the cases, the Dynamos midfield brigade is perfectly equipped to produce the goods.
Traditionally in a double pivot, the two holding players possess complementary qualities with one trying to break up play whereas the other performs the role of an orchestrator. With 848 passes, 44 tackles and 24 interceptions, Tebar was the midfield general of Pune City who ran the show lying deep around the centre circle. The Stallions perfected the art of attacking on the break and the breakaways were most initiated by a measured pass from Tebar who seamlessly linked defence and attack.
If the former Real Madrid graduate can replicate his form from the last season and forms a successful partnership with U23 starlet Vinit Rai, then midfield should not become a concern for Gombau. With 19 clearances and 29 tackles in 17 matches, Rai performed a decent job of regaining possession and destroying attacks. These two have the potential to form a dynamic midfield pairing and complement each other well.
Bikramjeet Singh would act as a perfect cover for Rai, as the former Mohun Bagan player had an equally impressive season with Chennaiyin. Along with Dhanpal Ganesh and Anirudh Thapa, Singh was also a vital cog in Chennaiyin midfield who with his defensive abilities provided more freedom to the more attack-minded players like Augusto and Mihelic.
Fernandes, Sekar and Chhangte have the pace to burn in the flanks which will be a constant threat to opposition full backs. Chhangte showed his versatility when he flourished in an attacking midfield position, although his natural ability to cross or cut inside from the wide areas makes him a perfect fit for the wings. It is high time Fernandes lived up to his potential, having stalled a bit after his exploits with FC Goa in the 2014 season. The former Dempo player also needs to be consistent if he wants to make a comeback into the India national team.
Spaniard Adria Carmona and Rene Mihelic are two options for the number 10 position. Carmona’s exceptional passing ability and a bounty of experience, courtesy of playing in top leagues (La Liga II, La Liga, Seria A) of Europe, will come in handy for Gombau. The former AC Milan and Barcelona Juvenil product has good vision and will be expected to strike up a partnership with Andrija Kaluderovic who should bang in the goals.
Mihelic, on the other hand, offers another addition in Delhi’s attacking blueprint, given his exceptional set-piece ability.
The fascinating aspect of this squad is that each position of the middle-half is covered by personnel who are equally capable of filling in the boots if left vacant by the first-choices. Siam Hanghal would be hoping to make a mark after a couple of flat seasons. There is a lot of healthy competition in the side and that will keep the starters on their toes.
It is evident that the backroom staff have put in a lot of effort to ensemble a cast who have the potential to overturn the horrid performance of last season. If the squad remains fit and well-drilled for most of the season, Delhi Dynamos have the potential to reach the play-offs.