ISL Season 7: Favourites Bengaluru set sights on second title

Sunil Chhetri, left, holds the key to Bengaluru FC's hopes. File photo: ISL

Bengaluru FC, champions of Indian Super League’s (ISL) 2018-19 edition, go into the new season hoping to improve on last year's third-place finish and lay their hands on the prestigious trophy once again. 

Bengaluru have played only in three editions of the ISL, but they hold an enviable record of winning the title once and finishing second on another occasion.

Owned by the JSW Group, the Blues have also won two I-League Federation Cup titles each before they entered the ISL fold ahead of the 2017-18 season. Apart from winning a Super Cup championship, they could also make it to the final of the AFC Cup once.

Heading into the seventh season, to be played behind closed doors at three venues in Goa due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bengaluru FC will definitely miss their vociferous, loyal and omnipresent fans at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, their fortress. However, it should not matter much for them as they have a star-studded squad with a good mix of youthful energy and experience to go all the way.

Bengaluru's first match of the season is against FC Goa at Fatorda on November 22.

Top domestic talents

The highlight of Bengaluru’s formidable unit is the presence of top Indian players in every department, beginning from captain Sunil Chhetri in the attack to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the goal. Ashique Kuruniyan, one of the most talked-about young players in Indian football, and Udanta Singh, who is known for his speed and trickery, gives them the much needed steel and balance to the attack.

Eye-catching line-up

Bengaluru boast of tremendous strength and depth in their forward line-up. Apart from Chhetri and Ashique, they will also be banking on the experience of their two foreign recruits who have proved their mettle for different sides in Europe and Asia.

The 33-year-old Brazilian forward Cleiton Silva, who became the first foreign player in Thai League to score 100 plus goals where he won three titles in as many seasons, and the 30-year-old Norwegian Kristian Opseth, a prolific scorer in the Norwegian top division, will solidify an already impressive attack that also features Deshorn Brown, Edmund Lalrindika, Leon Augustin, and Semboi Haokip. 

Classy midfield

Bengaluru's impressive line-up of midfield consists of familiar faces like the 37-year-old Spaniard Dimas Delgado and the 34-year-old Australian Erik Paartalu. This will be their fourth consecutive season with the Blues. 

Suresh Wangjam, Thoi Singh, Ajay Chhetri, Naorem Roshan Singh, Emanuel Lalchhanchhuaha, and Amay Morajkar will add Indian flavour to their midfield. 

Solid backline

Bengaluru will once again take the pitch with a strong and cohesive defensive unit. Since the key players to Cuadrat's preferred formation of 4-3-3 are full backs and defensive midfielders, Rahul Bheke and Ajith Kumar will have a major role to play. 

The other weapons in their armoury to protect the backline are Juanan, Fran Gonzalez, Harmanjot Khabra, Joe Zoherliana, Biswa Darjee, Namgyal Bhutia, Parag Srivas, Pratik Chaudhari, and Wungngayam Muirang.

A safe pair of hands

Indian international Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will be their first-choice keeper. Rival strikers are likely to find it difficult to get past the 28-year-old, who stands at a towering six feet and four inches.

Dipesh Chauhan, who  was promoted to the first team from their Under-18 squad, Lalthuammawia Ralte, who has previously played for NorthEast United, FC Goa and Kerala Blasters, and Tata Football Academy product Lara Sharma are the other shot-stoppers in the squad. They will have to wait for their chance as Sandhu is in the form of his life. 

Master tactician

Carles Cuadrat was an assistant to Albert Roca for two seasons at Bengaluru FC. He is somebody who enjoys celebrity status in Indian football, and is way ahead of his counterparts in terms of tactics and strategy. As a player, the 52-year-old was a left-back for FC Barcelona as well as Spanish youth teams. 

Known to be an expert in preparing players for dead-ball situations, he always comes up with new tricks and routines to outfox opponents. Delgado is the team's set-piece specialist.

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