Lions need to roar away from home

NEW DELHI: One of the most consistent sides in the history of the Hero ISL, Delhi Dynamos are most certain to finish in the top four. But can they go a step ahead and fight for the big prize?

After missing out on a place in the semifinals of the inaugural edition of the Hero Indian Super League, Delhi Dynamos have made quite some progress. They've progressed to the last-four stage in the next two editions.

In 2015, they went to Goa with a one-goal lead but lost 0-3 to FC Goa. Last season, they travelled to Kochi with a one-goal deficit, won the second leg encounter 2-1, but were knocked out on away goals. On both occasions, the team's inability to do well in away fixtures cost them dear. The Lions, it seems, roar at home.

But they now need to show some might away from their den. At the helm of affairs is Miguel Angel Portugal. His task will be simple: get this team to do even better than last season. Yes, Gianluca Zambrotta's side set the pace early in 2016-17 but couldn't go all the way.

Interestingly, Spaniard Miguel is the fourth coach at Dynamos after Herm van Veldhoven (Belgium), Roberto Carlos (Brazil) and Zambrotta (Italy). In three seasons, the fans witnessed caution, efficiency and finally, an attack-minded team with flair and poise. In their fourth season, their approach should be a fine mix of all this.

There has been a change in approach as well. Delhi has heavily relied on stars in the past; players like Florent Malouda, Robin Singh, Richard Gadze and Marcelinho were able to carry the team on their own. This season, they've opted for a holistic spread of players to create a more cohesive unit.

The pressure to perform will be spread across the line-up as hard-working players like Pritam Kotal, Sena Ralte, Pratik Chowdhury, Seityasen Singh and Romeo Fernandes come in. In the midfield, they have experienced South American players like Matias Mirabaje (Uruguay) and Paulinho Dias (Brazil). The Dynamos have made it a habit of bringing in unknown players and turning them into household names.
Credit must be given to their fine scouts and recruiters. They acted fast in the auction as well to strengthen their team. Miguel has played for Real Madrid and coached their B and C teams across different stints. He is steeped in the culture of using wingers to maximum effect and that reflects in the sort of players he chose to sign: fast, expressive Indians down the flanks with experienced foreigners through the middle.

Delhi's fans are used to finishing in the top four. Even in the opening season, they finished fifth, missing out by just a point. Surprisingly, the difference in their stats is negligible when compared with two-time champions Atletico de Kolkata. Delhi have made more passes than ATK, and have done so more accurately. They have also taken more shots and won more duels in fewer matches. They've also just scored one goal less than ATK in the tournament's history (64).

Records show that Delhi are a bastion of consistency. Every season they have gotten better: 5th in 2014, 4th in 2015 and 3rd in 2016. Now it is time for them to go higher and aim for the trophy. This is not a team used to backing down, this is a team which has evolved in a brutally consistent fashion. More of the same, and count Delhi as one of the semifinal contenders, again.


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