Johnson's return sets up crunch Bengaluru vs ATK tie

Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 table toppers Bengaluru FC will play host to ATK at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Thursday. The match will be both teams’ final fixture before the long winter break kicks in.

With the top four slowly peeling away from the chasing pack, three points from the match will be crucial for ATK, who are currently sixth in the table, in order to stay in the race for a playoff spot.

Bengaluru FC

The Blues are still unbeaten in their 10 outings this season so far and are sitting pretty at the top of the standings with 24 points. However, Carles Cuadrat's men seem to have dropped some momentum in December, having drawn both their matches this month. Sunil Chhetri and Co. will be eager to get back to winning ways on Thursday and end this round of fixtures on a high.

Bengaluru boast the best defensive record this season, having let in just 8 goals so far. Albert Serran and Juanan have struck up a solid partnership in the heart of the Blues' defence, giving fullbacks Nishu Kumar and Rahul Bheke the freedom to push forward consistently and help out with attacks.

Bengaluru have been without Miku in their last five outings and it’s still unclear if the star striker will be involved in Thursday's match. In the Venezuelan's absence, captain Sunil Chhetri is expected to spearhead the Blues’ attack. He is the team's top scorer this season with five goals to his name. The talismanic striker, however, has been unable to find the back of the net in the last three matches and will be eager to end the barren run against ATK. The Blues will miss midfielder Harmanjot Khabra, owing to a suspension due to accumulated yellow cards.

Here’s a look at Bengaluru’s current season in numbers:

ATK

After a rocky start to the season, the two-time Hero ISL champions have recovered well and are unbeaten in their last five matches, largely owing to a much-improved defence after Andre Bikey was brought in to partner John Johnson at centre back. Speaking of Johnson, the match will mark an emotional return for the Englishman to his old stomping ground.

Johnson spent five successful years with Bengaluru before making a high-profile switch to ATK this season. The former fan favourite will set foot at the Kanteerava for the first time since his move. It will be interesting to see if the Johnson-Bikey partnership can keep the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Chencho Gyeltshen at bay on Thursday.

ATK are all set to welcome back Pronay Halder, who missed the last few matches due to a nose injury. The midfielder is expected to be brought straight back into the starting line-up to slot in alongside Gerson Vieira at central midfield. On the attacking front, Bengaluru will need to be wary of ATK’s prowess from set-pieces, particularly with Manuel Lanzarote in their ranks.

Here’s a look at ATK’s current season in numbers:

PROBABLE LINE-UPS:

BENGALURU FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Rahul Bheke, Albert Serran, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Eric Paartalu, Dimas Delgado, Xisco Hernandez, Udanta Singh, Semboi Haokip, Sunil Chhetri (C)

ATK: Arindam Bhattacharja (GK), Ankit Mukherjee, John Johnson, Andre Bikey, Ricky Lallawmawma, Gerson Vieira, Pronay Halder, Jayesh Rane, Manuel Lanzarote (C), Everton Santos, Balwant Singh

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Bengaluru have a 100% win record against ATK in the Hero ISL.
  • ATK are the only side to have taken less than 100 shots in the league so far (97).
  • ATK have kept 4 clean sheets in their last 5 matches.

FANSPEAK

Can John Johnson keep Sunil Chhetri at bay?

  • Yes
  • No

Have your say in the comments section below.

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

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