ISL 2020-21, Bengaluru FC preview: Carles Cuadrat looks to bounce back from disappointing season with rejuvenated squad
With the upcoming season of the Indian Super League just days away, we at Firstpost.com take a look at how Bengaluru FC stack up.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better-run club in India than Bengaluru FC. Their rise to fame has been nothing short of meteoric, with a whole host of titles and a string of remarkable achievements both on and off the pitch under their belt. Last season, however, was a bit of a wake-up call for the Blues. In their maiden season as reigning Indian Super League champions, Bengaluru failed to impress, and despite making it to the semi-finals (eventually finishing third), there was none of their usual dominance on view.
Heading into the coming season, Bengaluru have a series of issues that need to be addressed rapidly, most crucial of which is their inability to see off close games. Even though they finished third, thanks to the fact that they had the best defence in the league, they were uninspiring going forward, and their total of 22 goals at the end of the league stage was the third-worst in the league, joint with Jamshedpur FC, who eventually ended up finishing eighth. To be fair to them, they have been adequately proactive in the transfer window, bringing in a couple of big names and letting go of some deadweight, and with this being Carles Cuadrat's third season in charge, they do have a lot more administrative stability than most of their nearest rivals.
With the upcoming season of the Indian Super League just days away, we at Firstpost.com take a look at how Bengaluru FC stack up:
There's been a lot of upheaval on the Bengaluru FC roster, with the Blues bringing in 10 new players. The first of these new arrivals was the pair of defender Pratik Chaudhari and goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte. While it's difficult to see a path to first-team football for Ralte, who will most likely deputise for Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Chaudhari could start a few games. The centre back brings a lot of experience to the squad, having played close to 50 matches in the Indian Super League, and he will be a valuable asset to the team in whichever way Cuadrat opts to use him.
Bengaluru have also done well to bolster their squad with a number of young players including Huidrom Thoi Singh, Ajith Kumar, Lara Sharma, Joe Zoherliana and Wungngayam Muirang. These promising youngsters will provide some much-needed energy off the bench, and could help Bengaluru secure their long-term future. But perhaps the most noteworthy signings of the window for Bengaluru were those of Fran Gonzalez from Mohun Bagan and Kristian Opseth from Adelaide United. In the case of Gonzalez, he's a tried-and-tested defender who has a year's worth of experience in Indian football, and strangely, he's also a serious goal threat, a skill he demonstrated by finishing the previous season of the I-League with 10 goals. With a good jump on him, and great movement in the box, he scores quite a few goals from set-pieces, and he can also take a decent penalty. Opseth is a more straightforward proposition, a good, quick striker who can bag a few goals when called upon.
Some big names have been sent packing though, foremost of which is Nishu Kumar, the dynamic young full-back who was a mainstay of the Bengaluru defence for the past couple of years. Kumar has joined Kerala Blasters, and his departure might hamper the team's excellent defensive record if Ajith Kumar cannot fill in his predecessor's massive shoes. High-profile foreign signings Raphael Augusto, Nili Perdomo, Albert Serran and Kevaughn Frater were not retained, and the slightly older Indian duo of Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rino Anto were signed by ISL newcomers East Bengal.
Bengaluru have the best defence in the league. That's just a fact. They've proven it time and again, conceding just 51 goals during the league stage over the three seasons that they have spent in the Indian Super League. To put that into perspective, they've played 54 league games, so they're not even operating at a goal per game. They've also kept 26 clean sheets over these three years. The team is fairly physical, and they're quite good at both attacking and defending set-pieces. Perhaps the biggest plus for them is the fact that they still have Carles Cuadrat at the helm. The Spaniard has proven himself to be a wily customer, often making intelligent changes to his formations to combat specific threats from certain opponents, and his experience could see them win yet another major title by the end of the season.
As mentioned before, there is a serious lack of firepower at the club. They have never really been a free-scoring outfit like FC Goa, but Bengaluru have been known to get a fair few goals every season, something that eluded them last year. At this level, the blame for such ineptitude in front of goal cannot be laid solely at the feet of the forwards, the midfielders and defenders have to contribute. The addition of Gonzalez will likely give them a bit of that, and if the newly recruited pair of Opseth and Cleiton Silva can hit the ground running, they might be able to address this issue.
Early signs have not been the most promising for Bengaluru, with a draw against Hyderabad and a defeat at the hands of Mumbai putting a bit of a damper on their pre-season, but you can never really rule them out of a title challenge. They have always been in and around the top of the league, and it's unlikely that this will change much in the coming season. Of course, with Chennaiyin, FC Goa and ATK recruiting well, there will be a bit more competition, but namma Blues have more than enough in their locker to give the best a run for their money.
Bengaluru FC squad:
Head coach: Carles Cuadrat
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Lalthummawia Ralte, Lara Sharma.
Defenders: Ajith Kumar, Diswa Darjee, Francisco Gonzalez, Joe Zoherliana, Juanan, Namgyal Bhutia, Parag Srivas, Pratik Chaudhari, Rahul Bheke, Wungngayam Muirang.
Midfielders: Ajay Chhetri, Amay Morajkar, Cleiton Silva, Dimas Delgado, Emanuel Lalchhanchhuaha, Erik Paartalu, Harmanjot Khabra, Suresh Wangjam, Thoi Singh.
Forwards: Deshorn Brown, Edmund Lalrindika, Kristian Opseth, Leon Augustin, Ashique Kuruniyan, Naorem Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Semboi Haokip.
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