Seeking their opening win of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season, Punjab FC will travel to take on Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in the eighth matchweek of the campaign on November 30, Thursday.

The ISL debutants have endured an interesting journey in the competition so far. They started off showing potential, which included draws against Jamshedpur FC and NorthEast United FC that was preceded by a narrow 1-0 loss against FC Goa away from home.

Though those encouraging outings promised positive outcomes afterwards, their performances have arguably plateaued since then. Now, up against them is a team that last tasted an ISL victory on October 4 against East Bengal FC. With sides with nearly similar forms clashing against each other, a closely contested competitive encounter surely beckons the Garden City.

“We bounce off the supporters, and the players do. And we want the supporters to bounce off the performance from the players. They're going to show heart, work rate, desire and skill which will make it an enjoyable night for both the supporters and the players, no matter who we are playing,” Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson had remarked earlier this season.

For Punjab FC, bigger challenges await than weathering the resounding environment that the West Block Blues create. They have concerns to address at the moment, which includes letting their foot off the pedal after getting into a position of advantage in matches.

The team has settled for a draw and succumbed to a defeat after getting a lead in their last couple of games against Hyderabad FC and Mumbai City FC respectively. Sealing the fate of the game lock, stock, and barrel is something that they need to pick up soon enough to make their remaining 15 league fixtures count.

What’s at stake?

Bengaluru FC

The Blues have been at the receiving end of their own errors lately, the latest being an own goal by the ever so dependable Aleksandar Jovanovic that deprived them of three points in Guwahati on Sunday.

The last time Bengaluru FC were subjected to a longer winless run than the current one was a stretch of five games (D1, L4) between October-November in 2022. What followed later on was an epic story for the ages, with head coach Simon Grayson inspiring a turnaround that will be written in the ISL books for years to come. In all means, he has to seed a similarly stimulating atmosphere within the squad to change the momentum of their season.

Punjab FC

It is of utmost essentiality that a new team gets the backing of their supporters as soon as possible. As it is, there are countless challenges that will come their way in this campaign. However, the relentless and unconditional backing of a dedicated group of fans gives sides a moral support that is absolutely invaluable. Bengaluru FC are the runners-up of the previous ISL final, and a victory against them on the road will get the Punjab FC faithful going and set the right mood in their camp.

Key Players

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Bengaluru FC)

The India international goalkeeper has made 12.3 recoveries in addition to 2.28 saves per game in seven ISL 2023-24 appearances. The custodian has been critical in keeping the Blues in the game, pulling off a tremendous move to deny Parthib Gogoi a potential winner in the 82nd minute of their faceoff on Sunday. Sandhu has also been fairly neat in his distribution, recording 58% accuracy out of the 29.14 passes that he has attempted on an average in every game. Sandhu will also be shouldered with the task of spearheading the defensive unit, as Bengaluru FC will try their best to avoid any errors at the back and cap off a convincing, all-round outing in this game.

Juan Mera (Punjab FC)

The 30-year-old Spaniard has been at the forefront of driving the creative moves of his side in the frontline. Juan Mera has attempted the most dribbles (32) in the ISL 2023-24 and completed the joint-most (14), along with Sahal Abdul Samad (Mohun Bagan Super Giant). His free-flowing role across the frontline will keep the Bengaluru FC backline on their toes and so will his eye for a decisive pass in the final third. He has created one goal-scoring opportunity on an average per game and has also netted and assisted once in seven matches until now. Freshly back from the break, Juan must be sharp and raring to cause troubles to the home side with his impressive acumen.

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Head-to-Head

This will be the first fixture in the ISL between these two teams.

Trivia: Punjab FC player Leon Augustine is a youth product of Bengaluru FC and had a seven-year-long stint from 2016-2023 with the club.

Team Talk

“The level of the ISL is growing all the time. Teams are closer to each other in terms of quality more than they have ever been. Anybody can beat anybody on a particular day. Last year, only Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC were in contention of winning the league whereas this year it’s going to be a lot more teams,” Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson reflected on the growing competitiveness in the ISL.

“For us, there are difficulties. We try to be competitive, apart from one game (against Chennaiyin FC), all the other games we have lost by a goal. Until now we have not succeeded to win any game. This has hurt us but made us to insist more in our work. The success will come,” Punjab FC head coach Staikos Vergetis admitted and said in the pre-match press conference.

ISL Fantasy

Sunil Chhetri (7.9cr)

Has scored thrice in five ISL 2023-24 appearances so far

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (4.9cr)

Bankable bet at the back and will likely deliver another solid performance

Luka Majcen (9cr)

Punjab FC will rely on him to add to his goal tally of two strikes until now this season

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Where to Watch

Fans across the country can catch the action in English, Hindi, Bengali, and Malayalam. Fans can watch the action on linear channels like Sports18 Khel (Hindi), Sports18 1 SD & HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam) & DD Bangla (Bengali). In addition to this, as part of FSDL’s partnership with OneFootball, ISL live streams and highlights of all matches of the upcoming 2023-24 season will be delivered across more than 190 countries.