Bengaluru FC are the most in-form team as the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2023 enters the knockout stage. The 2018-19 Hero ISL champions won their last eight league games to finally qualify for the playoffs after missing the knockout rounds in the previous two seasons.

At the start of the season, Bengaluru FC acquired quality players like Roy Krishna, Sandesh Jhingan, Javi Hernandez and Prabir Das. Simon Grayson’s side started with a bang winning the Durand Cup but endured a difficult start to the Hero ISL after collecting just ten points from their first 12 matches. 

With a knockout berth looking highly unlikely, the Blues turned a corner to win eight on the spin and qualify for the playoffs in fourth position to complete one of the greatest league stage comebacks in Hero ISL history. 

Grayson’s men now have form and momentum on their side as they face Kerala Blasters FC at home in the first knockout game.

Key stats in Hero ISL 2022-23 

Matches: 20, Wins: 11, Draws: 1, Losses: 8, Goals Scored: 27, Goals Conceded: 23, Points: 34

Tactical profile

To find the right winning formula, Grayson tried six different formations this season. The Englishmen used 3-4-3, 3-4-1-2 and 4-4-2 twice, 4-2-3-1 once, 4-3-3 six times and most recently 3-5-2 seven times.

Bengaluru FC also saw a lot of changes in personnel at the start of the season. But after finding the right formula, they were consistent with their personnel. In most games, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan, Roshan Naorem, Hernandez, and Krishna started regardless of formation. Since switching to 3-5-2, their line-ups have been consistent, barring any injury or suspension.

Phil Brown’s analysis: They are the only team that plays with a back three as their primary formation, and it suits the players they have at their disposal. There are eleven round pegs in round holes, and that is a good position to be in. 


Defensive solidity: Since the switch to a 3-5-2 formation, Bengaluru FC have conceded just six goals in eight matches. Jhingan has thrived in this formation, and including Rohit Kumar in midfield has added much-needed protection. With the central channel more congested, they force teams wide and are able to deal with the crosses thanks to their three central defenders, who are very strong in this area. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s presence is also key in this aspect, and his 57 saves have massively helped the team’s cause. 

Erik Paartalu’s analysis: Now they have three defenders at the back who love to defend and two wing backs that love to bomb on and cross. Midfield workhorses, creative players and strikers that love to run in behind. It is extremely balanced and hard to break down. 

Transitions: Bengaluru FC are one of the league's best teams in defensive and offensive transitions. They have scored 11 goals on counter-attacks and conceded only four. 

After winning the ball, they usually launch it upfront for players like Udanta Singh and Sivasakthi, who have enough pace to break and take the shot or wait for a teammate to pass. Hernandez sometimes finds his teammates during transitions from defence to attack through line-breaking passes. They rely on the pace of wide players like Prabir Das or Roshan Naorem to retain their defensive shape. They have the pace and stamina to cover ground and get back in their defensive positions quickly, making them hard to break down. 

Performance of young Indian players: 

One of the key factors behind the Blues’ revival is the inclusion of players like Rohit Kumar and Sivasakthi. Rohit has a tremendous work rate that helps him contribute offensively and defensively. He scored three goals, created four chances, and made 35 tackles, 24 interceptions, 13 clearances, and 16 blocks. 

Sivasakthi is another player who runs his socks off. He is primarily a striker but can operate on the wings as well. He has six goals and two assists and is one of their key players on transitions.

Phil Brown’s analysis: Among all the teams, I feel Bengaluru FC’s young Indian players have been very effective, and that’s a massive factor in the Hero ISL. At the moment their confidence is sky high, and Bengaluru FC could really profit from it in the knockouts. 

Sivasakthi Narayanan interview: Playing with Chhetri and Krishna takes the pressure off me 


Defending against pace: Bengaluru FC do leave space behind the wing-backs, and although they have been able to close those gaps effectively, they could be vulnerable to pace in attack. 

Paul Masefield’s analysis: Bengaluru FC allow teams to put balls into the box, and even though they have the three to deal with it, there is a lack of pace in that central defence and if runners can make intelligent runs they could get at the Bengaluru FC defence. Against a fast attack, the wing-backs too, could have a lot on their hands.

Response to falling behind: Despite qualifying for the playoffs, BFC didn’t win a single point after conceding first. Along with East Benga; FC, they are the only team to have lost all their matches after conceding first. 

Phil Brown’s analysis: Falling behind in games can knock your confidence, especially in knockout matches against the likes of Kerala Blasters FC or later on against Mumbai City FC. In their run, they haven’t been under pressure and reacting to a goal against them might be one of their weaknesses.

Player to Watch out for in knockouts: Javi Hernandez 

Hernandez is the main focal point of the BFC attack. He was already a well-known commodity in the Hero ISL before joining the Blues, having previously played for ATK, ATKMB, and OFC. He provided a much-needed attacking dimension to a struggling BFC attack. His inclusion also altered the game of Krishna and Siva, making it difficult for the opposing team to pick their link-up. 

Hernandez has eleven goal contributions to his name this season and has created 36 chances, the most by a Bengaluru FC player this season.

Erik Paartalu’s analysis: He has everything you want in a number 10. He drives forward, evades challenges and plays balls through at just the right moment. He will be key at the edge of the box on attacks, and if Bengaluru FC are to get past Kerala Blasters, he will have to be at his best as he has been all year long. 

Paul Masefield’s analysis: Hernandez is the one that pulls the strings. He can pick the passes and find Krishna and Sivasakthi. But he can also track back and contribute defensively. He is going to be immense for Bengaluru FC in the knockouts. 

Records and unique stats

  • They have won their last 8 matches in a row, a new club record. Only Mumbai City have won more matches in a row in Hero ISL history (11).
  • They are the only unbeaten team in 2023, having won all of their 8 matches (100% win record)
  • 77.78% of Bengaluru FC’s goals in Hero ISL 22-23 have been from open play. No team has scored a greater proportion of their goals from open play this season.
  • Siva Sakthi Narayan has scored 6 goals. He is the highest U23 goals scorer this season (6) 
  • Two players have 10 or more goal contributions this season - Javi Hernandez (11) and Roy Krishna (10)
  • Sandesh Jhingan - 126 clearances, most by a player in Hero ISL 2022-23
  • Jhingan has also won 99 aerial duels, the most by a player this season.

Predicted starting XI: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK)(C), Prabir Das, Sandesh Jhingan, Aleksandar Jovanovic, Parag Shrivas, Roshan Naorem, Suresh Wangjam, Rohit Kumar, Javi Hernandez, Roy Krishna, Sivasakthi