Unlike previous seasons in Indian football, this time you don’t really know what to expect from Bengaluru FC (BFC) at the start of the Indian Super League (ISL).
Since its founding in 2013, BFC has demonstrated enough adaptability under different coaches to become contenders in every competition they play. From Ashley Westwood’s super professional and fit mix of youth and experience, which Albert Roca inherited and honed into one of the best possession-based clinical attack models, to Carles Cuadrat’s side, who combined defensive prowess with excellence of the play. – Everyone knew how to win the games that mattered.
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Except in 2019-20. When Ashique Kuruniyan swooped in on a rare ATK defensive error at Salt Lake Stadium, putting BFC 2-0 on the run with an away goal in the semifinals, the prospect of a Fatorda final looked good. ATK was required to score three times to progress … exactly what the champions ended up doing.
So why has BFC apparently backtracked?
If you could pick one word to explain why last season’s BFC looked a little different from the previous two, it would be Miku. The Venezuelan’s chemistry with captain Sunil Chhetri had worked so well during his two years at the BFC that they were regularly pinching matches, even in those where they weren’t the dominant team.
Last year, only two of the other nine teams scored fewer goals in the league regular phase than the BFC’s 22. In their first two ISLs, they were only beaten by Sergio Lobera’s FC Goa. These poor performances meant that, although their defense held firm, they played a third of their games as draws.
Cuadrat continues as coach, and with established teams like ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC having cleverly traded, and a relative unknown in SC East Bengal on the field, the fact that BFC has remained more or less in the same group suggests This season you will also need them to find that extra team to compete for the top spots.
Who are the players they have invested in?
As expected, Cuadrat’s signings have focused on finding solutions for the goals. Forward Kristian Opseth of Norway joins retained Jamaican Deshorn Brown in attack, and comes with experience playing in leagues in Norway, Turkey and Australia. Fran González will be familiar to Indian spectators: the Spaniard plays more of a defensive midfield role, but still influenced Mohun Bagan’s victory in the I-League to score 10 goals, many of them from dead balls.
Brazil winger Cleiton Silva has played in Mexico and China, but comes with the distinction of being the first foreign player to score 100 league goals in Thailand, where he successfully played for BEC Tero Sasana, Muangthong United, Chiangrai United and Suphanburi. Silva’s inclusion is also a not-so-subtle hint for both Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan that they can no longer take their names on the team sheet for granted, after both had a disappointing 2019-20 campaign.
But they have Sunil Chhetri. ‘I just don’t think you understand’?
In fact, we do. He is a player who could hold the key to how his season unfolds. He’s had an interesting offseason thanks to the pandemic, from conducting interviews like one with MI Vijayan that was trending among Indian soccer fans, to exercising religiously during the lockdown and making sure his team stays up to speed. of their standards.
Other familiar faces such as Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal, Juanan, Dimas Delgao and Erik Paartalu in front of him will make BFC a difficult team to take down, as has been the norm. If Cuadrat can get his starting XIs correct, the five substitution rule here could also help, BFC should have a higher goal threat on a regular basis. Chhetri still has the ability to conjure goals from the smallest starts; his team will have to create those openings for him and his chosen attack partners to feed on.
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What they have going for them
Even though there really can’t be easy games in a league as compact as the ISL, the draw has been kind to BFC. They start with FC Goa, current champions of the league stage, a rebuilding work in progress since Sergio Lobera left for Mumbai city along with some key players, and then play five more games against teams that have a new coach. commanding. From Hyderabad, Chennaiyin, NorthEast United, Kerala Blasters and Odisha, only Kibu Vicuna from Kerala has previous experience of having been a coach in India.
Cuadrat’s first severe test could come four days after Christmas, when Antonio Habas’ ATK Mohun Bagan plays the rematch of the dramatic semi-finals, where BFC weakened enough to give away their title hopes. This time, Cuadrat will hope to enter that game on the crest of an inexorable wave.