Bottom of the table after crashing to their fourth defeat in five matches, Delhi Dynamos’ first season of the Indian Super League could be as good as over. Delhi’s slide started when they lost to a last minute goal away to FC Goa (2-1, 1 Nov) and then again at Mumbai City (1-0, 5 Nov). An away draw against Kerala Blasters (0-0, 9 Nov) raised expectations of a turn around. But back-to-back home losses to Goa (1-4, 13 Nov) and Kerala (0-1, 16 Nov) leave the men from the capital six points adrift of the top half of the table with five games left.

Delhi fans are wondering what went wrong for their team after good performances in initial matches against Kolkata (1-1, 19 Oct) and Chennaiyin (4-1, 25 Oct), two of the stronger teams in the Super League. The truth is that nothing has clicked for the Dynamos ever since. Their defenders seem to have lost the plot after opening the season brilliantly. The midfield is unable to control matches and gets overrun easily. When Delhi attack, they feel unconvincing and lethargic. The only consistent performer is giant goalkeeper, Kristof Van Hout. The Belgian shot-stopper has single-handedly stopped 1-0 score lines from turning embarrassing and has the most saves in the tournament.

For a team claiming to inspired by the Dutch total football philosophy, it is ironic that Delhi average only 48% possession per match. Seven goals in nine matches is nothing to be proud of, especially when four of them came in the same game against Chennaiyin.When manager Harm Van Veldhoven was asked if his side were unlucky or not clinical enough after the loss to Kerala, he said, “Sometimes the problem is quality. Sometimes we need to force our luck. We had chances today, but we weren’t able to convert any and our opponent was. I think we played better football in the first five games.”

Van Veldhoven has preferred the classic 4-4-2 shape spearheaded by Alessandro Del Piero and Mads Junker. They are supported on either flank by Shylo Malsawmtluanga and Steven Dias. The engine of the team is midfielders Hans Mulder and Bruno Arias. Van Hout commands the back line of Souvik Ghosh, Wim Raymaekers, Anwar Ali and Adil Khan. Notable substitutes include wing back Pavel Elias, winger Francis Fernandes, attacking midfielder Gustavo Dos Santos and target man Morten Skuobo.

Delhi's tactics

Delhi’s tactics

Without the ball, Delhi defend deep. The back line tends to retreat into their own box and invite their opponents to cross the ball while the midfield keeps central areas compact. This should work in theory- the defence is manned by aerially dominant center backs along with a 6ai??i??10ai??? man-mountain of a goalkeeper who loves to come out and catch the ball. The idea behind it is to shadow the lack of pace present in the form of Raymaekers and Ali.

In practice, this causes Delhiai??i??s counter attacks to fail miserably. Every team to successfully pull off a deep defence has at least two players who can pick the ball up at the edge of their own box and lead the transition from defence to attack.

Chance creation from the wings has been average. Hence, a lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of Hans Mulder and Bruno Arias. Mulder is a physically dominant destroyer with the ability to run box-to-box and a brilliant range of passing. Arias is the typical Spanish midfield maestro. The ex-Sevilla man can control matches with his neat, short passes and leads the league in number of passes completed. He also makes direct attacking runs from midfield, looking to play quick one-twos around the edge of the box.

Some of Delhi’s best attacks have come when Mulder releases Arias down the right hand channel with a defence splitting through ball. What made the pair so effective in the first half of the season was their confidence on the ball, their communication skills and their ability to pull the strings in midfield when Delhi dominate possession. However, with Delhi having lesser of the ball in recent away games, the duo has not been as effective.

The lack of pace is apparent in almost all areas of the pitch, first choice forwards Mads Junker and Alessandro Del Piero being no exceptions. Junkerai??i??s best work is done in the penalty box, as shown by both his goals this campaign. The ageing Del Piero now needs his side to work the ball around and keep the build-up slow to work openings. The Italianai??i??s lack of defensive work rate also leads to him being further up the pitch than Junker, whereas it should be the other way around.

Il Pinturicchio just has not delivered for Delhi. He plays neat back heels and through balls every match, but none of them lead to goals. Crowded out in the center, he drifts wide but then becomes less involved in the build up. He dribbles through defenders but does not have the pace to beat them. So he wins free-kicks instead, free-kicks which he hits straight at the wall or tamely into the hands of the keeper. Dynamos fans still wait for Del Piero to give them something to shout about. Zero goals from the man who put the ball in the back of the net over 290 times for Juventus means the coach must be looking at the bench for inspiration.

Maybe the talented but raw Brazilian attacker Gustavo Dos Santos is the answer. The entire league has been wowed by his unparalleled dribbling skills and solo goal against Chennayin. Every time the former Paranaense player runs through the middle or cuts in from the right, the crowd is pulled to their feet. He has scored two goals on cameo appearances as a substitute, often being the injection of pace the Dynamos attack lacks. At the same time, his selfishness in front of goal and failure to track back means he is a liability to the team.

Given full freedom as a number 10, Dos Santos could be the tactical master stroke that gets Delhi back into the competition. If defensive responsibilities can be shared by more industrious players, the Brazilian’s quality can shine through the middle, spearheading a midfield triangle backed by the solid partnership of Mulder and Arias.

Delhi can still mathematically qualify for the semi-final stage. The Dynamos must get 3 points against North East United at Guwahati, no easy task mind you, and only then can they even dream about a fourth place finish.

Risks must be taken on the field as well as in team selection to reap the rewards. The coach must seriously reassess his strategy and come up with a plan to defeat the Highlanders. Delhi’s entire season and reputation hangs in the balance.

*****

Written by Guest Author Chaitanya Joshi

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