With Robert Jarni’s Highlanders hoping to announce their candidacy for the title, the Blues will have to be at their best to start off on the right foot.
ISL champions Bengaluru FC will begin their first-ever ISL title defence, when they face-off against Robert Jarni’s NorthEast United FC at the Kanteerava Stadium on Monday evening. Although, the home side look like the favourites on paper, with the way in which NorthEast United have gone about their business in the summer, they certainly possess the firepower to give the champions a run for their money.
Despite the departures of two key names from the club, in manager Eelco Schattorie and star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche, the Highlanders have managed to strengthen heavily over the break and now look stronger that ever. It’s also interesting to note that it was against Bengaluru FC that the they got knocked out last season, meaning that there is certain to be a few players in there with a footballing grudge to deal with. Although, the game is being played in Bengaluru, Robert Jarni and his team will be feeling more than confident going into this fixture.
The Blues have had a rather shaky couple of months having only recently dealt with the home stadium debacle. With the Sree Kanteerava Stadium now confirmed as the venue for their home fixtures, the mood around the club has certainly improved. Despite the excellent way in which the club conducted it’s business during the transfer window, they have managed to downplay a lot of the expectations and keep the squad and the fan base grounded.
The Blues were undeniably the strongest team in the tournament last time out and they will be looking assert their dominance over the other teams early on. Having made some strong and positive additions to the squad, coach Carles Cuadrat and his Bengaluru FC project seems to be running like a well-oiled machine. The side from Karnataka didn’t have the greatest of pre-seasons because of all the question marks surrounding the Kanteerava Stadium. With everything now in order, the players and the management alike, will have the freedom to focus solely on what goes on within the pitch. They will be looking to highlight their superiority right from the opening weekend.
NorthEast United FC
After four failed attempts at qualification for the knockout stages, they finally solved that puzzle last time around. Despite the positive campaign though, the club have gone through what can be called a revamp. With a massive number of transfer dealings conducted over the summer, the Highlanders look like a rejuvenated squad. Although, star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche and midfielder Rowllin Borges have now left the club, they have brought in the necessary reinforcements, who will be looking to make their name resonate around the country by beating the champions on their first attempt this season.
Bengaluru FC (Carles Cuadrat)
“The new season is an opportunity for me to try new things and to work with different aspects. It’s also the time for new players to get into the dynamics of the team. We’ve tried a lot of different options with the physical conditions and at the same time getting the team ready,” Cuadrat said. Read the entire press conference here.
NorthEast United FC (Robert Jarni)
We have to win every game to be in the top four. There is a long off-season break, so we are working with the team for a month and a half. The team is young and motivated to play well, but this is our first season with the team, new players so we need time,” Robert Jarni said.
Read the entire press conference here.
The Blues look ready to go ahead of the start of the new campaign, with no major injuries of note to deal with. Young defender Sairuat Kima is out of contention, as he is serving a one-match ban. The presence of key players like Erik Paartalu, Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh from the start, will play a massive part in guiding them to the playoffs stage of the tournament yet again.
NorthEast United FC
Federico Gallego remains NorthEast United’s only realistic big miss. Despite the fact that the Uruguayan has been ruled out until halfway through the season, they have managed to perform extremely well during the transfer period and ensured that minor injuries won’t have an effect on the side.
Bengaluru FC and NorthEast United have faced off against each other six times in ISL history and the Blues have come out victorious on four of these. Although, they have played out a draw as well, the Highlanders’ solitary win came in last season’s playoff first leg – a tie which the they won 2-1, only to be demolished 3-0 by the Blues four days later.
Man To Watch
Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
The Indian skipper’s importance at the start of a new campaign cannot be underestimated. The experience and tactical knowhow that he brings to the table is unmatched. His work-rate off the ball and ability to conjure up moments of brilliance that can change games make him one of the deadliest players in the entire league. Having led the Blues to the championship last time out, he will be raring to repeat the feat.
Asamoah Gyan (NorthEast United FC)
A former Premier League striker, Asamoah Gyan is one of the biggest coups in the history of the ISL, and his contributions to the NorthEast United side are going to prove vital. Arguably the best player in the tournament on paper, the veteran striker has achieved more over his career than most Indian players can dream of, meaning that he will be an excellent mentor to all the young talent within the NEUFC side. He is expected to spearhead the Highlanders attack, which looks to be a mouthwatering prospect indeed.
Bengaluru FC- Sandhu (GK); Bheke, Serran, Juanan, Kumar; Paartalu, Augusto; Udanta, Chhetri, Kuruniyan; Onwu.
NorthEast United FC – Pawan (GK); Singh, Heerings, Komorski, Ghosh; Khawlhring, Leudo; Meetei, Chaves, Kadam; Gyan.
Did You Know?
- Robert Jarni, and Indian national team coach Igor Stimac, were once teammates for Croatia.
- Bengaluru FC went the entirety of last season unbeaten at home – Fortress.
- This would be NorthEast United’s sixth edition of the ISL under the sixth different head coach.
The match between Bengaluru FC & NorthEast United is set to be telecast live on Star Sports 2 and Star Sports 2 HD. It will also be available to be streamed live on Hotstar and Jio TV.