Days away from the kick off of the Indian Super League 2020-21, it is Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri’s Bengaluru FC who look the most formidable team on paper. With a record that boasts consistency across the six seasons of the league, the Blues have won the title once (2018-19) and finished runners up in 2017-18.
Last season, they were edged by champions ATK FC in the semi final stage 3-2 on aggregate. They finished third in the league stage with 30 points owing to eight wins, six draws and four losses. They have also made their qualification to the 2021 AFC Cup play-off round.
A brief look at the Bengaluru FC squad speeches loudly about their faith in the core group formed around the likes of Chhetri. Having retained 17 players from the last season Spanish head-coach Carles Caudrat and company have banked on a melange of expirience and youth.
With Sunil Chhetri leading the attack line from the front, Bengaluru already pose a massive threat to the 10 (opponent) defensive lines that will have to hatch extraordinary plans to keep the second highest goalscorer of the league away.
Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh offer the perfect balance with pace and decent control. However, it were the signings of strikers Cleiton Silva and Kristian Opseth that made the headlines this time.
As per his resume, Silva is a two-time top goal scorer in the Thai League. He has scored 118 goals and provided 28 assists in 204 appearances for different clubs.
Norwegian player Opseth has represented Adelaide United in Australia’s A-League last season, making 21 appearances and netting six goals. He has 68 goals and 21 assists registered to his name till now for 166 matches.
However, the midfield has consistently let down Bengaluru FC in the past and needs to somehow deliver if the team has silverware in mind. Apart from the established Erik Paartalu, none of the players have much experience.
The team depends much on the strong forward line to deliver, which it has, but a lack of assists from the midfield has been a consistent issue. Carles Caudrat’s belief in set pieces and clear assists means that the midfield will have to stand taller and deliver in sync.
Despite the absence of Nishu Kumar and Albert Serran, the defence still looks robust for keeping the opponent attackers out of bounds. The addition of Ajith Kumar, who was played for Chennai City FC (I-League) seems to be the right fit for the left back position.
Fran Gonzalez comes with vast experience from Spain and a season he plied his trade with I-League side club Mohun Bagan and made 16 appearances. Even as a defensive midfielder, Gonzalez scored 10 goals, assisted once with a 82% passing accuracy, and also made 93 interceptions. Pratik Chaudhari was also signed, who made over 44 appearances for various ISL clubs previously.
The goalkeeping department is a one-man show for Bengaluru FC, it’s the great wall of Gurpreet Sandhu standing tall and making some unbelievable saves season after season. However, over-reliance on Sandhu could cost the Blues.
They’ve promoted goalkeeper Dipesh Chauhan from the Under-18 squad as a reasonable backup for Gurpreet.
At a prima facie, the team does look a winner, however, that has been a case with them since the first time someone kicked the ball in ISL. Chhetri would like to add another badge of glory against his name, but the knockout qualification comes first. Bengaluru FC start against title favourites FC Goa, a match that may set the tone for them.
Bengaluru FC squad:
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Lara Sharma, Dipesh Chauhan, Lalthuammawia Ralte.
Defenders: Juanan, Rahul Bheke, Fran Gonzalez, Harmanjot Khabra, Ajith Kumar, Joe Zoherliana, Biswa Darjee, Namgyal Bhutia, Parag Srivas, Pratik Chaudhari, Wungngayam Muirang.
Midfielders: Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu, Suresh Wangjam, Thoi Singh, Ajay Chhetri, Naorem Roshan Singh, Emanuel Lalchhanchhuaha, Amay Morajkar.
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Kristian Opseth, Cleiton Silva, Ashique Kuruniyan, Deshorn Brown, Udanta Singh, Edmund Lalrindika, Leon Augustin, Semboi Haokip.