Punjab FC will clash against Bengaluru FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi in the first match of the Saturday double header of year, of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 at 5:00 p.m. (IST).

This will be the first match for both these teams since the ISL mid-season break and they will continue their respective pursuits of sealing a playoff qualification with better performances in the second half of the season. Punjab FC won only a solitary match in the opening leg, as the ISL debutants worked their way into tackling the challenges of the top-tier. It was a 1-0 victory against Chennaiyin FC at home, and Punjab FC need to ring in more wins to seal a promising finish in their maiden ISL campaign.

On the other hand, the Blues underwent a difficult start to the season, leading to the departure of Simon Grayson from head coach duties. Gerard Zaragoza, former assistant to Carles Cuadrat at Bengaluru FC, replaced Grayson and the club is eyeing a strong response in the coming few months. The sixth spot in the standings is going to be hotly contested for, and the team should be hoping to secure a finish there to repeat their heroics from the previous campaign and make a late surge that could bring back enthusiasm and hope amongst their faithful supporters.

What’s at stake?

Punjab FC

It can be argued that Punjab FC were being initiated into the league until now. However, they need to constantly learn from their mistakes and correct their drawbacks from the games until now to make the most of this opportunity of playing in the ISL. They have the resilience within them, which is reflected from them being the first-ever promoted team in the competition’s history.

Even this season, there have been plenty of instances when they have taken a lead but been unable to hold on to them and thus ended up conceding points that could have earned otherwise. One of those encounters was a 3-3 gripping draw that they played against Bengaluru FC away from home on November 30. With three different scorers, Punjab FC had found the back of the net thrice in the first 30 minutes and they must be targeting another similar impactful commencement to the proceedings on Saturday.

Bengaluru FC

Zaragoza didn’t get too much of a time to get into the groove of things in the last few ISL fixtures that Bengaluru FC played in December. However, now, having had a month with the team already, the Blues should be looking forward to better performances on a more consistent basis. They made heads turn with the influential acquisitions of top India internationals like Chinglensana Singh and Nikhil Poojary in the January transfer window.

That must help them plug the holes in their backline, which should prevent the leakage of goals and thus help their attacking contingent explore their optimum potential. The likes of Halicharan Narzary and Sunil Chhetri will have to be pretty sharp and efficient in terms of converting the chances coming their way as well, as an all-round performance will give their supporters assurance that the measures taken in the previous month could result in a tangible turnaround of on-field results.

Key Players

Wilmar Jordan Gil (Punjab FC)

Punjab FC were perhaps way too dependent on the likes of Madih Talal and Luka Majcen to do the goal-scoring duties for them so far. Wilmar Jordan Gil had a brief but pretty impressive spell with NorthEast United FC previously in the ISL and he is a forward who can be an imposing presence for the opposition’s backline. He can hold the ball against the defender, make quick turns, be an aerial threat, and also keep his calm in tight spaces. It will be interesting to see how head coach Staikos Vergetis sets them up, and manages to maximise the goal-scoring prowess of both Majcen and Gil, whilst also keeping the overall team balance in mind. A formidable start to the second half of the season can help him build some momentum as the more important games approach later on.

Chinglensana Singh (Bengaluru FC)

The signing of Chinglensana Singh was a statement by Bengaluru FC that they stand tall to their reputation of being one of the most profound teams in the ISL. Chinglensana is amongst the topmost central defenders in India along with Sandesh Jhingan and Anwar Ali. He is at the peak of his career, having garnered abundant experience whilst also having a reasonable and bright future ahead of him. He is neat in his positioning, feisty in his challenges, creative in his passing, and all of these skillsets come together to make him the complete package. He was instrumental in the success of Hyderabad FC in the past few years, and will be hoping to make a good start to his new club in a bid to take Bengaluru FC back to where they belong.

Head-to-Head

Played – 1

Punjab FC – 0

Bengaluru FC – 0

Draws – 1

Trivia: There were six different scorers in the 3-3 draw played by both these teams in their last fixture.

Team Talk

“Taking our experiences from the first half, we are more ready and adapted to the ISL. Players have taken many lessons and experiences that will be useful in the coming half of the season,” Punjab FC head coach Staikos Vergetis mentioned in the pre-match press conference.

“We have trained about 20 sessions together with me, and the players have done good things, things that I want them to do. Now of course, we are better with national team defenders but we need to take this up day by day, game by game,” Bengaluru FC head coach Gerard Zaragoza said.

ISL Fantasy

Javi Hernandez (10cr)

Primary creative threat from Bengaluru FC

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (4.6cr)

Assured and composed presence between the posts for the Blues

Juan Mera (7.6cr)

Always in the lookout for creating goal-scoring opportunities

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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 HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam), News 18 Kerala (Malayalam – select matches) & DD Bangla (Bengali). Fans can also catch the action streaming Live for free on JioCinema, the home of Indian football. 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.