Bengaluru no longer invincible, or is this a plan?
Bengaluru FC look like a different team than the one that started their Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) campaign in a whirlwind manner.
The ISL finalists kicked off their campaign with a convincing victory over defending champions Chennaiyin FC, and even though they were held 2-2 by Jamshedpur FC at home, their six victories in a row was proof of their enormous strength. When in form, they could steamroll opposition, and when not at their best, they could still grind out victories.
But since the long winter break for the Asian Cup 2019, they have only managed to pick up four points from as many games which included defeats to Mumbai City FC and Chennaiyin FC. In fact, they just about managed to pick up a point against Kerala Blasters after a shoddy display in the first half and it was the brilliance of goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, coupled with the wastefulness of NorthEast United’s attackers, which allowed the Blues to nick a win.
Such a poor run of results does not augur well for Bengaluru -- unbeaten in 11 matches -- towards the business end of the Hero ISL. The all-important play-offs are less than a month away, so is there a cause for concern?
“We have been using one team while Miku was well and now we can rotate, and rest players and it is a different team playing. So, they do not have the mechanics of the team that was playing in the first games of the season. I wanted to give some rest for the players since they are going to be important in the play-offs. You have to rotate to have players fit for the play-offs. This is our plan,” explained Bengaluru FC coach Carles Cuadrat.
Bengaluru FC are on the brink of making it to the top four once again this season. They have 31 points already in 15 matches and considering that only 30 points were needed to clinch the play-off berth last season, they might already have sealed their place. That perhaps explains why Cuadrat has been rotating his squad by giving the likes of Edmund Lalrindika, Rino Anto, Gursimrat Singh, Ajay Chettri and others a chance to make an impression.
Since Miku’s return from injury, he has looked rusty. The same is the case with Nishu Kumar, who just got back to full fitness. Captain Sunil Chhetri underwent a lean patch of form in front of goal before scoring two goals in the last two outings.
Also, Bengaluru chose to let go of Chencho Gyeltshen on loan, despite the Bhutanese striker winning them four points. New signing Luis Lopez has looked short of match fitness.
Moreover, last season, they had the likes of John Johnson, Toni Dovale, Edu Garcia, Subhasish Bose, Alwyn George and Lenny Rodrigues, to see the side through in difficult times. But now, if the regular starters are to be kept aside, the Bengaluru unit doesn’t have anyone to bank upon on an off day.
The rest and rotation may be part of a plan, but two defeats in four matches has taken away the aura of invincibility that surrounded Bengaluru FC. Teams will now take the field knowing they have more than a fighting chance of knocking out the Super Cup champions. Unless, in the next three games before the play-offs, Bengaluru return to form and instil fear in the minds of their opposition, again.