Match 2 Preview: Bengaluru FC and Northeast United FC aim for a quick start to the season

Bengaluru FC will be locking horns with last season’s semi-finalists NorthEast United FC when they take to the field at the GMC Athletic Stadium, Bambolim on Saturday, on November 20, in their respective opening games of the eighth edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL).

The Blues will look to return to the semi-finals again this season having missed out on the knockout spot last year. The Highlanders will look to go one step better and reach the final.

2020-21 recap

Bengaluru FC

Having established themselves as consistent contenders for the champions’ throne over the past few seasons, Bengaluru FC fell short of making it to the top four for the first time in their Hero ISL history last season. They had an unbeaten start to their previous campaign, winning three and drawing three of their first six games, but their campaign took a disappointing turn when they failed to register a win in the following eight fixtures.

NorthEast United FC

NorthEast United FC displayed immense grit and determination in the 2020-21 season, as the side recorded their best-ever finish in the league stages, finishing third in the standings with 33 points. Khalid Jamil who was handed the reins midway through the season led his team to six wins and three draws in the final nine games of the season, which propelled them into the semi-finals.

TEAM NEWS

Bengaluru FC

The former champions have revamped their squad ahead of the upcoming season, with a new-look foreign contingent, and several domestic signings too. A common trend noticed among their acquisitions in the summer window was a downward shift in the average age of the players. Bidyashagar Singh, Danish Farooq, Prince Ibarra, Bruno Ramires, and Iman Basafa are yet to go past their prime, which is a positive sign for the club’s future.

Bengaluru FC will be missing several domestic players due to injuries against the Highlanders. Their injury list is headlined by Suresh Singh Wangjam, who is still regaining match fitness, and also includes the likes of Parag Srivas, Akashdeep Singh, and Rohit Kumar, who shall all be unavailable for the first game.

Harmanpreet Singh picked up a knee injury while featuring in the Durand Cup which has sidelined the young forward for the entire season.

NorthEast United FC

One of the less active entities in the market, NorthEast United FC took a reserved approach to their transfer activity, which is partly due to the retention of several core players like Federico Gallego, Deshorn Brown, Khassa Camara, and VP Suhair, ahead of the new campaign.

They had to let go of influential players like Lalengmawia, Ashutosh Mehta, and Dylan Fox, among others, but they’ve compensated for their losses by roping in Hernan Santana, Patrick Flottman, Matheus Coureur, and Sehnaj Singh.

Emanuel Lalchhanchhuaha is the only player unavailable for NorthEast United FC, which is a positive for Khalid Jamil’s side as they head into their season opener.

HEAD-TO-HEAD RECORD

The Blues have historically been the better side in this fixture, winning five, and drawing four of the 10 games that they’ve contested against the Highlanders. NorthEast United FC have won just one game against the former champions, which was back in the semi-finals of the 2018-19 season. Three out of the previous five encounters between the two clubs have resulted in draws, with the two fixtures last season also ending with no victors.

KEY PLAYERS

Bengaluru FC - Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri could be the X-Factor for Bengaluru FC, as the prolific forward is coming off the back of an exceedingly successful SAFF Championship, where he emerged as top scorer and player of the tournament. The Blues’ skipper will be aiming to conquer a personal milestone too, as with a tally of 47 goals, he is just one goal away from equalling Ferran Corominas’ record of the most goals in the history of the Hero ISL.

Northeast United FC - Federico Gallego

The Highlanders will be relying on the creative brilliance of Federico Gallego, who racked up four goals and six assists in the 2020-21 season. The Uruguayan created the most chances in the league in the previous campaign, and the crafty playmaker holds the distinction of being the highest assist provider for the club, while also being their second-highest goalscorer. He has three goals and five assists while playing under Khalid Jamil.

KEY STATS

Success at Bambolim: The GMC Athletic Stadium was a happy hunting ground for both sides in the seventh edition of the Hero ISL, as Bengaluru FC maintained a 75% win percentage in the four games they played at the venue, while NorthEast United FC remained unbeaten in their five games, winning once and drawing four times.

A leaky Blues’ defence: The Blues conceded 28 goals in the 2020-21 season, which was the highest in their history, and registered a negative goal difference for the first time ever in the Hero ISL.

Jamil makes history: Khalid Jamil’s exploits in the latter half of the previous season encouraged the Highlanders’ management to entrust him with the responsibility of leading the side in the upcoming campaign, making him the first Indian head coach in the competition’s history.

MATCH TIMINGS AND TELECAST DETAILS

Match: Bengaluru FC vs NorthEast United FC

Date: 20th November

Venue: GMC Athletic Stadium, Bambolim, Goa

Kick-off time: 7.30 pm

Telecast: Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD, Star Sports 3, Hindi Commentary on Star Sports 1 Hindi, Star Sports 1 Hindi HD, Star Sports 1 regional channels - Tamil, Bengali, Kannada, Telugu

Online Streaming: Disney+Hotstar and JioTV.

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