The Blues have recruited smartly and are looking like a mighty squad ahead of the 2020-21 season.
One of the few Indian sides who have experienced enviable success ever since their inception, Bengaluru FC have impressed pundits and fans alike in the last couple of years with their performances. The Blues are one of the most decorated teams in the country over the last few seasons, having won almost every major trophy. It is with these high expectations that the players, fans and coaching staff approach every campaign.
Despite their success, the 2019-20 term saw Bengaluru FC having a disappointing season. A Indian Super League semi-final exit after leading by two goals, might have been brushed off by some clubs as an achievement. However, it was not such for the Blues. With the AFC Cup also in their fixtures, Carles Cuadrat and his team would be aiming for nothing short of the title this time around.
Last Season’s Performance: Third
There were promising signs from Bengaluru FC at the beginning of the 2019-20 season. The Blues started with three stalemates, but went on to win three matches in their next four outings to extend their unbeaten streak to seven matches. However, a string of poor performances towards the end of the league phase, saw them drop to third in the table, missing out on top spot by nine points.
They started the playoffs well with a two-goal lead against ATK on aggregate, only for the eventual champions to produce a stunning comeback victory in Kolkata.
Bengaluru FC played one pre-season friendly against Hyderabad FC. The match ended in a stalemate, with Wungngyam Muirang getting on the scoresheet for the Blues. Aridane Santana’s spot-kick for Hyderabad was the other goal in the game.
Carles Cuadrat continues at the helm for the third year, assisted by Javier Pinillos and Naushad Moosa. He is also joined by goalkeeping coach Julen Esnaola and fitness coach Mikel Guillen.
Cuadrat is known for his tactical understanding as well as playing to the strengths of his team and attacking the weakness of the opposition. He has built a hard-working team that can be scrappy when necessary or beautiful if needed.
It was a summer of some churn for the Blues, as they recruited important additions to key areas of the pitch, including the attack and backline. That was in addition to tying down some of their key players to new contracts.
After a difficult previous season, the Blues were quick to make changes to their squad. 10 signings were made, with the headline grabber being the arrival of former Mohun Bagan ace Fran Gonzalez. The Spaniard was the top scorer for last year’s I-League-winning Mariners side. They further strengthened the squad with more foreigners like Cleiton Silva and Kristian Opseth. The arrival of Pratik Chaduhari from Mumbai City FC and Ajith Kumar from Chennai City FC would bolster a defence that needs fine-tuning.
The biggest exit from Bengaluru FC was Nishu Kumar’s move to Kerala Blasters. The young full-back, who was a crucial cog in Cuadrat’s system will be hard to replace. Several foreigners like Raphael Augusto, Albert Serran, Nili Perdomo and Kevaughn Frater have left India to take their talents elsewhere. Manuel Onwu has shifted to Odisha FC, where he has managed to garner success on loan. Rino Anto and Eugeneson Lyngdoh moved to East Bengal, while Prabhsukhan Gill was signed by Kerala Blasters.
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Lara Sharma, Dipesh Chauhan
Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Pratik Chaudhari, Harmanjot Khabra, Fran Gonzalez, Juanan Gonzalez, Ajith Kumar, Wungngayam Muirang, Joe Zoherliana, Parag Shrivas, Biswa Darjee
Midfielders: Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu, Ajay Chhetri, Namgyal Bhutia, Suresh Wangjam, Naorem Roshan Singh, Amay Morajkar, Thoi Singh, Emanuel Lalchhanchuaha
Attackers: Sunil Chhetri,Cleiton Silva,Kristian Opseth, Deshorn Brown, Ashique Kuruniyan, Udanta Singh, Edmund Lalrindika, Leon Augustine, Thongkhosiem Haokip
This seems likely to be the standard formation used by Cuadrat during the Indian Super League. Fearsome duo Fran and Juanan start as center-backs in front of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Ajith Kumar would be expected to fill in for Nishu in the left-back role, while Rahul Bheke takes up the right side.
Dimas and Erik would be the double pivot in the middle of the park, while Chhetri plays in the hole behind the striker flanked by Ashique and Udanta on either side. Cleiton Silva will take up the No. 9 role.
The biggest change in the formation is Kristain Opseth’s inclusion. The Norwegian will play alongside Chhetri in a two-man frontline with each of them taking turns to drop deep and get involved with the build-up play.
Both Ashique and Udanta start deeper, with one of them likely to get further forward. This formation would prove to be useful against teams that like to keep the ball and rotate possession, as it gives a good base for counter-attacks.
Adaptability is their key principle and strength. Bengaluru FC under Cuadrat have shown immense tactical flexibility, adopting different strategies against different teams, spotting their tactical weaknesses and exploiting them. Another key part of their gameplay is their proficiency from set-piece scenarios.
Erik Paartalu and Juanan are marking nightmares from corner and free-kick situations and the addition of Fran Gonzalez has only increased the threat. With the likes of Dimas, who is able to deliver pinpoint balls into the box, opposing defenders will have to be at their very best to counter this line of attack.
The one big weakness has been their failure to replace Miku. The Former Bengaluru FC striker had been highly influential while his replacements have failed to deliver the goods on a regular basis.
The signings of Cleiton Silva and Kristian Opseth are meant to absolve the problem, but their lack of familiarity with Indian football might pose other issues. The lack of depth in midfield is also another big issue for the Blues. Any injury to key players could become problematic for Cuadrat.
Players to Watch
The player who is mostly likely going to benefit from Bengaluru FC’s set-piece proficiency is former Mariner Fran Gonzalez. The defender was the top scorer for the 2019-20 I-league winning side with 10 goals. His lethal instinct and positioning sense during set-piece situations will pose a threat to opposition defenders.
If there was one position last season where Bengaluru failed to impress, it was that of the striker. The Blues tried to replace Miku three times and came away with disappointing results on each occasion, leading to their eventual semi-final exit.
Onwu, Deshorn Brown and Frater failed to live up to expectations. That is the exact reason why Silva’s performances would be scrutinized by both fans and pundits. The Brazilian will need to produce steady results, if Bengaluru are to lift the coveted title.
With some new faces in defence after the departure of Nishu and Serran, Bheke would need to be the X-Factor for Carles Cuadrat. His versatility will be key, especially during the early stages of the campaign, as Cuadrat strives to find the ideal starting lineup.
He has been a dependable presence at the back for the Blues and will need to continue his performances, if Bengaluru FC are to weather the storm in the early weeks of the Indian Super League.
What to Expect
Bengaluru have always set high standards and they would be looking for nothing short of their second ISL title this season. They have made shrewd signings and would hope that the lack of their strong home support will not be a factor in their performances.