This will be their eleventh meeting in the Indian Super League.
On Saturday in the Indian Super League (ISL), Marco Pezzaiuoli’s revamped Bengaluru FC will lock horns against Khalid Jamil’s in-form NorthEast United side from last season. The last two face-offs between the teams both ended in eventful draws. However, as always with a new season, the first gameweek is virtually unpredictable, for the most part.
The Highlanders, since last season, haven’t been an easy apple to pick. Under Jamil, they’ve left fans open-mouthed every now and then. Largely, they’ve retained their core this time around and signed some good foreign players. Hence, they’ll be looking forward to continuing their same red-hot form from their previous campaign, that saw them finish third in the standings.
On the other hand, Bengaluru FC are embarking on a new journey under their 53-year-old German head coach. Though they finished poorly in 2020-21, they’ve had a lot more pre-season playing time than their opponents due to the AFC Cup, the Durand Cup as well as a number of pre-season friendlies. Nonetheless, a new season playing with full strength squads could be a completely different scenario for both sides.
For Bengaluru FC, this could be a much better season than 2020-21 – at least based on performances so far in pre-season, the most recent instances being the wins against Jamshedpur FC and Chennaiyin FC. Basically, the Blues have had some major restructuring and overhauls in terms of management and players. With a lot more youngsters and newer foreign signings, there is a new aura of excitement around them this season.
However, this very revamp could go either way. Figuring out their best side by integrating the right mix of youth and experience would be their biggest challenge. In other words, fielding the right mix of youth and experience to cater to their philosophy and rightly replace veteran departures could either go smooth or become a prolonged process. Despite glimpses of wins, nothing can really be proven until they actually battle it out in the season. For this game though, Pezzaiuoli and his men would be looking forward to stability and to set the tone for the rest of the campaign.
After barely coming up short last season and losing out to ATK Mohun Bagan in the semi-finals, NorthEast United aim for redemption. For this, a lot has been entrusted upon Khalid Jamil, who debuts tomorrow as the first full-time head coach in the ISL. The 44-year-old knows the ins and outs of Indian football and has an I-League title to his name in his first and only season with Aizawl FC in 2016. This experience, along with his association with the Highlanders saw them finish with 33 points — their highest tally. As a result, they’d be hoping for a stable kick-start to build up a good lead right from the beginning.
Subsequently, Jamil’s success would be of major significance for Indian football. If he succeeds, it could pave the path for a lot more Indian head coaches in the future. However, do keep in mind that they have a highly inexperienced Indian contingent compared to their rivals. In other words, a side that’s heavily dependent on foreign players for creativity and one with zero Indian internationals — that too in a season with the four foreigners rule in play. Regardless, Khalid Jamil is a man known for getting the best out of limited resources. Hence, he’ll be looking to capitalize on the abilities at his disposal — squad versatility and his very own knowledge of the ISL built over the last few years.
NorthEast United have a fully fit squad to choose from, barring Emanuel Lalchhanchuaha. The young midfielder suffered an injury during pre-season that has left him ruled out for several weeks, if not the whole season.
Bengaluru FC also have some injury woes. Parag Shrivas (elbow) and Rohit Kumar (ankle), along with Akashdeep Singh were injured during the pre-season. Among them, Akashdeep and Rohit are set to have a delayed return to the pitch.
As mentioned, the teams drew in both their fixtures last season; with the first clash ending 2-2 and the reverse fixture, 1-1.
Overall, they’ve played 10 games against each other of which Bengaluru FC have won five and NorthEast United, one. The remaining four were draws, with three of them coming from their last three meets.
Bengaluru FC (4-3-3): Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Sarthak Golui, Pratik Chaudhari, Alan Costa, Ajith Kumar, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Iman Basafa, Bruno Ramires, Udanta Singh, Cleiton Silva, Sunil Chhetri
NorthEast United (4-3-3): Subhasish Roy (GK), Joe Zoherliana, Jestin George, Hernan Santana, Provat Lakra, Imran Khan, Federico Gallego, Khassa Camara, VP Suhair, Deshorn Brown, Rochharzela
Man to Watch
Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
Once again, it’s the skipper who’s the biggest source of threat. He led the side to SAFF Championship glory last month, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with five goals. Last season, he formed a solid partnership with Cleiton Silva upfront and is expected to spearhead the attack yet again.
Collectively, considering his ever-lasting form and captaincy, he will be the one to watch out for. However, considering Udanta Singh’s shaky form of late, he could be joined by others such as Leon Augustine or Bidyashagar Singh in attack. Subsequently, a restructured midfield and defensive line could also be decisive for his performance. It’s only a matter of time before we find out.
Federico Gallego (NorthEast United)
The Uruguayan attacking midfielder has been one of the most influential players since he joined the club in 2018-19. Last season, he was vital in their run-up to the semi-finals. He spearheaded their attack, scoring four and assisting six in the 16 matches that he played.
Subsequently, he contributed in almost every aspect — scoring, creating chances as well as defending and will yet again be crucial for the Highlanders. This time, he also has last season’s ISL winning midfielder Hernan Santana alongside him, who brings that winning mentality to the side.
Did You Know?
- NorthEast United under head coach Khalid Jamil were on a 10-match unbeaten run until the semi-finals last season.
- Bengaluru FC’s seventh-place finish in the standings last season ended their own record of reaching the playoffs in every season since their ISL debut.
- Bengaluru FC recorded their lowest points tally last season with 22, while NorthEast United ended with their highest (33) from 20 total matches played.
The game between Bengaluru FC and NorthEast United will take place at the Athletic Stadium in Bambolim, Goa. Kick-off is at 7:30 pm IST. The match will be shown live on the Star Sports Network and be live streamed on Disney+Hotstar and JioTV.
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