Bengaluru begin title defence against Gyan-equipped NorthEast

The second match of Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 will see reigning champions Bengaluru FC take on one of last season’s semi-finalists NorthEast United FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Monday. Both sides enjoyed memorable campaigns last time around, with the Blues winning their first title and the Highlanders reaching their first-ever semi-finals. Incidentally, it was Bengaluru, who knocked NorthEast out of the competition last season.

With the new season representing a clean slate, both sides will be looking for a strong start to set the tone for the next six-or-so months.

Bengaluru FC

Since joining the Hero ISL back in the 2017-18 season, the Blues have been one of the standout sides in the competition, picking up wins almost at will and showcasing astounding consistency. Their win last season was a vindication of that dominance, and the club will be eager to continue the trend this season.

In the summer, the Blues managed to keep hold of most of their core players, with ace striker Miku and winger Xisco Hernandez being the major outgoings. The club promptly responded by bringing in Spanish striker Manuel Onwu, former Chennaiyin ace and two-time Hero ISL winner Raphael Augusto, old fan-favourite Eugeneson Lyngdoh and highly-rated Indian youngster Ashique Kuruniyan. The trio represents a good haul and will undoubtedly strengthen the team, but much will depend on how Onwu settles in. The former Osasuna forward will have to step into the shoes of the Venezuelan hitman – a substantial task considering Miku’s contributions to Bengaluru’s success in the last two seasons.

However, apart from these, there isn’t much change in Cuadrat’s title-winning squad from last season: something which could prove to be the difference on Monday. Unlike the Highlanders, who went through a major restructuring from last season, most of the Bengaluru FC squad has been together and are well-versed in Cuadrat’s style and philosophy.

Cuadrat will have the luxury of playing an unchanged back four he so preferred last season, with Albert Serran and Juanan playing at the heart flanked by Rahul Bheke and Nishu Kumar. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is primed to take point on goal. Dimas Delgado and Raphael Augusto are likely to partner up in midfield alongside the versatile Harmanjot Singh. Up top, Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri and Manuel Onwu may make up the front three. Cuadrat also has the option of playing Ashique up top in place of Onwu and bring in Erik Paartalu in midfield. Returning Eugeneson Lyngdoh may also have a role to play.

NorthEast United FC

After four seasons of disappointments, the Guwahati-based club finally came good last season, reaching the Hero ISL semi-finals for the first time in their history. Despite having lost most of the personnel who played a vital role in that success, the club will be, at the very least, eyeing to replicate the success in the Hero ISL 2019-20 campaign.

However, it is easier said than done considering the sheer magnitude of change the Highlanders have undergone this summer. Along with a flurry of new faces in the team, there’s also new management at the helm, with Robert Jarni now overseeing the club’s aspirations. The Highlanders, however, do have an ace up their sleeves in Ghanaian icon Asamoah Gyan, who has probably been the most high-profile signing of Hero ISL 2019-20. He will be joined by some promising attacking talents in Uruguayan striker Martin Chaves and Argentine Maximiliano Barreiro and Highlanders fans can expect some attacking football this season if the resources are utilised properly. Winger Panagiotis Triadis impressed last season and will represent another offensive option for Jarni.

In midfield, Jose Leudo will be leading the charge from his holding midfield position and will have the lively Redeem Tlang and Lalthathanga Khawlhring. Former Mumbai City enforcer Milan Singh can also be brought in to add more steel to the midfield.

At the back, Croatian centre back Mislav Komorski and Kai Heerings will be looking to strike up a good partnership, flanked by Provat Lakra and Shouvik Ghosh. In Lalengmawia, Nintoi and Nikhil Kadam, the Highlanders also possess a very promising batch of youngsters who can impact matches coming off the bench.

While it’s still early days to predict what formation or approach Jarni will opt for, the Highlanders’ squad certainly have the adequate personnel required to surprise the defending champions in their own backyard.

PROBABLE LINE-UPS:

Bengaluru FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Rahul Bheke, Albert Serran, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Dimas Delgado, Harmanjot Khabra, Udanta Singh, Raphael Augusto, Sunil Chhetri, Manuel Onwu

NorthEast United FC: Pawan Kumar (GK), Provat Lakra, Kai Heerings, Mislav Komorski, Shouvik Ghosh, Jose Leudo, Milan Singh, Redeem Tlang, Panagiotis Triadis, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Asamoah Gyan

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Bengaluru were the only side unbeaten at home last season. (7W, 3D)
  • NorthEast picked up 17 points on the road last season – the most by any side.
  • Bengaluru have won the opening fixtures in both their Hero ISL campaigns.

Fan Speak:

Which team will open their Hero ISL 2019-20 campaign with all three points?

  • Bengaluru FC
  • NorthEast United FC

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Catch the match live at 7:30 PM only on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio TV.

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