Road to semi-finals: Bengaluru out to create history by retaining the title
Since joining the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) at the start of the 2017-18 season, Bengaluru have been largely outstanding and have finished in the top four in all campaigns they’ve played in so far. After winning their first Hero ISL title last term, the Blues have backed it up with consistent displays, finishing third in the 2019-20 table. Their aim will now be to kick on and become the first side in Hero ISL history to win back-to-back titles. Before that, let’s look back at their season and summarize their journey so far.
Form over the season:
Despite having made a few decent signings over the summer, the Bengaluru-based club began their season with three consecutive draws. Goal-scoring emerged as a major problem for them, with Udanta Singh’s strike against FC Goa being the only goal they scored in the first three matches. Their fortunes changed, though, when midfielder Erik Paartalu regained fitness and made his return to the side at the end of November.
The next three games saw the Blues collect seven points from a maximum of nine available to them. While results weren’t great after that, with the Blues losing to Mumbai City FC and ATK FC in the next three matches, Cuadrat’s side looked much more settled and similar to what we’ve come to expect from them.
Wins against Goa and Jamshedpur kick-started a pleasant 2020 for the Blues, with Sunil Chhetri coming into his own and scoring at will. A second successive loss to Mumbai was the only blemish in an otherwise perfect January, where the Blues also beat Odisha FC and Hyderabad FC. Defensive solidity was a feature of this amazing run, putting the club on course for a definite top-four finish.
However, draws against Chennaiyin FC and ATK, and a loss to Kerala Blasters in February prevented Cuadrat and Co. from challenging for the top spot. Their mid-season form, however, was more than good enough to earn them a place in the Hero ISL semi-finals for the third season running.
Alongside Albert Serran, the 32-year-old Spaniard has formed the cornerstone of the club’s success so far this season. Playing all but one match, Juanan has accounted for 21 tackles, 14 interceptions, 120 clearances and 23 blocks. Additionally, he has also chipped in with a goal and helped the club earn a league-high 10 clean sheets so far. The Blues have also conceded the least goals as well, with Juanan’s presence having a big say in that.
Bengaluru’s disappointing start to the season signified just how important the Australian is to Cuadrat’s side. Without Paartalu’s formidable presence, the Blues lacked steel in midfield and were not so much of a threat in set-pieces either. His return turned the club’s fortunes upside down, helping them find their way into the top four. The 33-year-old has scored two goals, provided five assists and accounted for 39 tackles, 68 clearances and 28 interceptions within this span of time.
With Miku’s departure, Bengaluru have heavily relied on the attacking services of the Indian captain so far. True to his nature, the 35-year-old didn’t back down from the challenge and has already scored nine goals for the club. His understanding and leadership, meanwhile, has helped youngsters like Ashique Kuruniyan and Suresh Wangjam to put their best foot forward and lead the Blues to the top four.