No other Indian football club has enjoyed success in the past few years as Bengaluru FC. Since their inception in 2013, they have secured at least one trophy every season and won every domestic trophy in India. That is no mean feat.
The Karnataka-based club have been a part of the Indian Super League since 2017 and have bagged the top-spot in the league phase in both seasons. Last year, they defied the odds as team that finished first on the table had won the title but with Rahul Bheke’s last-gasp header against FC Goa, they changed that trend after losing the final in the 2017-’18 season.
As the sixth edition of the ISL season begins on Sunday, the Blues start as favourites again but can they defy the trend again and defend their ISL crown to what no other team has done before?
Bengaluru’s consistency as a football club when it comes to matters on the field sets them apart. They have set high standards and are constantly pushing to set the bar higher for others in the league. No wonder they are now every neutral’s favourites to do what nobody has done before in the ISL.
What’s changed for 2019-’20
Arrivals: Prabhsukhan Gill, Aditya Patra, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Parag Satish Srivas, Gursimrat Singh Gill, Sairuatkima, Manuel Onwu, Ashique Kuruniyan, Edmund Lalrindika, Raphael Augusto
Departures: Miku, Xisco Hernandez, Luisma Villa, Chencho Gyeltshen, Alex Barrera, Boithang Haokip, Asheer Akhtar, Altamash Sayed, Bidyananda Singh, Robinson Singh, Soram Anganba.
BFC have retained their core players and made some big-name signings in the summer. Miku and Xisco Hernandez departed but the defending champions have made up for their absence by signing Spaniard Manuel Onwu (forward) and Raphael Augusto (midfielder). The Brazilian Augusto has been one of the best foreign players to have graced the league, having spent four seasons with Chennaiyin FC during which the club won two titles. Ashique Kuruniyan and Eugeneson Lyngdoh add more quality to their strong contingent of Indian players.
After a shaky start last season, the club gradually climbed up the top of the league and it was difficult to knock them off their perch. What stands out in their squad is that they have enough cover for every position available. As much as five Indian players from their squad are potential starters in the national team. Dimas Delgado is the heartbeat of the team while Erik Paartalu and Augusto are the best box-to-box midfielders in the league. The latter’s addition could be a game-changer for the defending champions.
While there are very few flaws to pick in this Bengaluru FC squad, it remains to be seen whether Onwu is the right man to replace Miku, who was a stellar center-forward for the Blues.
The Venezuelan had a telepathic understanding with Chhetri in attack and was also shouldering a bulk of their goal-scoring responsibilities. Although Onwu has a lot of experience playing in the Spanish lower divisions, it might require him some time to settle at the club and form an understanding with his teammates.
Taking over from Albert Roca after serving as an assistant coach, Carles Cuadrat guided Bengaluru to their first ISL title in just his first season as coach. He made few tactical tweaks to their possession-based style last season where the Blues performed cohesively as a unit. Apart from winning the trophy, under Cuadrat, the club also went unbeaten in 11 games - the longest ever in ISL history. The Spaniard will aim to refine his style and achieve bigger results. The big challenge for him will be to avoid complacency and the proverbial second-season syndrome that is so often talked about in football.
Player to watch out for: Eugeneson Lyngdoh
The most obvious choice here would be Sunil Chhetri, but we all know how good he is. So, moving on...
It’s a big season for Lyngdoh, who returns to the club where he made a name for himself. The Meghalaya-born midfielder has enjoyed has been a fan favourite at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium and had previously established himself as one of the best midfielders in the country at the club. Injuries have halted his progress ever since he left the club in 2017, even resulting in him getting dropped from the national team but he will be hoping to make a big statement on his homecoming.
Lyngdoh helped Bengaluru clinch the 2014–’15 Federation Cup and was named the I-League midfielder of the year in what was his debut season. That year, he was also named All India Football Federation player of the year.
He will be hoping to rediscover his magic touch that once made him the most sought out midfielder in India.
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Prabhsukhan Gill, Aditya Patra
Defenders: Rahul Shankar Bheke, Albert Serran, Sairuatkima, Juan Antonio Gonzalez Fernandez, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Rino Anto, Nishu Kumar, Parag Satish Srivas, Gursimrat Singh Gill
Midfielders: Erik Endel Paartalu, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Kean Francis Lewis, Raphael Augusto, Dimas Delgado Morgado, Udanta Singh Kumam, Ajay Chhetri, Suresh Wangjam
Forwards: Manuel Onwu, Sunil Chhetri, Thongkhosiem Haokip, Ashique Kuruniyan, Edmund Lalrindika