Bengaluru: On Saturday evening one could witness at Sree Kanteerava Stadium: a group of youngsters pressing their white paint-soaked palms on an ink-blue banner; the camerapersons setting up their equipment; organisers fixing the makeshift passageways, among other sights. The predominant colours were blue and white.
Seven months after they lost a heartbreaking final to Chennaiyin FC, Bengaluru FC will be back on their home turf on Sunday evening, hosting their victors.
Chennaiyin FC’s two victories – including one in the final – against BFC (concurred by many as last season’s best team) gave rise to a rivalry that might dominate this season’s Indian Super League (ISL) narrative.
On the eve of the much-awaited clash between Chennaiyin and Bengaluru, dubbed by the media as ‘Southern Derby’, the latter’s manager, Carles Cuadrat, underplayed the hype.
“We know that this is a repeat of last season’s final, but the ideal scenario is that we view it as the opening game of this season. We have studied them but we will be focusing on ourselves more and how we can make use of our strengths in this game,” Cuadrat told the media.
Cuadrat is replacing his former boss Albert Roca, who forged a close bond with the team’s players and fans. He’s promised the BFC fraternity that the team won’t deviate much in its style of play and “philosophy” from last season.
“The management is always there with a plan. I think it made sense for them to keep the work they were doing with Albert (Roca) and put it in my hands because in the end, it is the same philosophy, that matters,” he’d said.
The Blues assembled in July and headed to Spain for a pre-season that was full of lessons handed by teams like Barcelona B and Villareal B and Cuadrat admits his side returned from the tour, wiser and stronger.
“We played some friendlies in Spain and it was a good experience for some of our boys. They were tough opposition and now is the time for us to use that to our advantage as we begin the new league season,” the Spaniard said.
Will Dhanpal’s absence affect Chennai?
For John Gregory, the one who manages the defending champions, there will be the headache of finding a good replacement for the injured midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh.
“Obviously, he is a big miss for us. He’s not somebody who is very quiet on the pitch. He is involved in whatever we do and played a huge part in us winning the ISL last season,” said Gregory.
“He is going to be missed. So it gives an opportunity for somebody else. About this time last year, he himself wasn’t in the team. He got a chance against NorthEast and he performed so well that I couldn’t leave him out. So, it’s a chance for somebody else to step up, somebody else to start in the team [on Sunday] night. It’s up to them, how well they do.”
Gregory, 64, said his players aren’t burdened with the pressure of being defending champions.
“My players are not under any pressure whatsoever. I have always encouraged them to relax and just enjoy as much as they can. Obviously when you’re winning matches, you tend to enjoy a little bit more.”
He also said that his team do not fear playing in Bengaluru’s home ground, which will be enlivened by the fans clad in ink blue and white, including those who painted the banner of palm prints. For the opposition, it can be daunting.
“We come here without any fear. But we have a lot of respect for BFC. What they achieved in their first season was outstanding. But we’re not afraid about coming here. It’s throws up a fantastic opening game for both teams.”