It was the nonchalance that was jarring. Mumbai City FC had taken an early lead against Bengaluru FC, and they were passing it around. They were casual, easy passes against an opponent that just stood by and watched. For phases of that first half, it was nothing more than a televised training session. Pass-pass-pass-pass went the men in yellow, stroking it around until they got bored. We've seen Sergio Lobera teams do this before -- nobody takes that quintessential Catalan philosophy more to heart than him -- but not quite like this. And never against Bengaluru.
You see, when you come at Bengaluru, you expect a fight. Under Ashley Westwood, under Albert Roca, under Carles Cuadrat, that was the one constant. Direct football, passing football, winning football, losing football -- but always fighting football. Their forwards track back with religious zeal, their midfielders smash into you, their defenders bully you. You can be many things against them, but never nonchalant.
And that's why it's jarring.
On the surface, it's just three matches, three losses. 3-1. 1-0. 1-0. Bengaluru are fifth in the table, within a point of the playoff places. Seems okay, right? But dig deeper, and you can sense the panic. It's not the losses, but the nature of them.
ATK Mohun Bagan comfortably held them off at arm's length, scoring once and then simply sitting back and allowing them do... nothing. Pronay Halder not having to commit a single foul in seventy-odd minutes speaks to the absurdity of it all. It was barely a contest.
Jamshedpur gave them more chances, but BFC never looked likely to capitalise. And in the end, they were let down by the one weapon they could always depend on, set pieces. Jamshedpur scored off one and BFC never looked remotely threatening off one of their own.
Then the nadir. The City game.
They were out-footballed, out-muscled, out-set-pieced, and plain out-BFC-ed. All in the same match. And Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made an error. Just how much worse can it get?
In open play they looked all at sea -- the movement of Bipin Singh, Raynier Fernandes and Adam Le Fondre pulling them apart, the passing of Hugo Boumous and Ahmed Jahouh and Mandar Rao Desai cutting them up. On set pieces it was even worse - for their two goals, Fall outmuscled Juanan with ease, Ogbeche out manouvered Fran Gonzalaez comfortably.
Even for the neutral, it's becoming a painful watch.
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Sandhu has been good, barring that one tragi-comic moment, but the defence in front of him bears little resemblance to the fortress of yesteryears. The midfield is functional at best and a liability at worst. The forwards have never created less.
Without Ashique Kuruniyan's direct, fearless running, the ball moves forward at a snail's pace. Kristian Opseth needs time to settle, Cleiton Silva is peripheral. Rahul Bheke looks uncomfortable at left back. Suresh Singh Wangjam tries (and tries well), but against the best sides is that really enough? Sunil Chhetri continues to plod, but those 36-year-old legs need to do less plodding and more inspiring.
This being Bengaluru, they will probably continue to find ways to beat the so-called lesser teams, as they have shown this season, but that was never enough at the club. Carles Cuadrat -- assistant to Roca on that glorious run to the AFC Cup final, and head coach when they lifted their maiden ISL title -- knows this better than most. He will feel the hurt. He will feel the pressure. He has shown the strength before to handle it.
It's time now to dig deep into those reserves of character, within himself and his players, roll up those sleeves and get stuck in. To remind the league that to play BFC is to prepare for a world of pain. To show that there is still fight left in him, and his team.
Otherwise, it will be those phases in the first half against Mumbai that will define their season. Those phases where City passed and passed and passed and Bengaluru just stood and watched. Those phases where Cuadrat -- usually such an animated character -- stood on the sideline, lips pursed, hands on hips, as motionless as his team, quietly resigned to accepting the beating down.