Bengaluru FC will step into a new chapter of the club as Gerard Zaragoza returns to the outfit in the capacity of a head coach with his opening fixture being against Jamshedpur FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 on December 16, Saturday.

With one victory in 10 games, the Blues have been struggling to get going this season. The campaign started off briskly, but it began faltering gradually, especially after the international break. A morale-crushing 4-0 defeat to Mumbai City FC led to the departure of Simon Grayson and the arrival of Zaragoza.

Zaragoza was part of the coaching setup that steered the Blues to their ISL title-winning run in 2018-19. Amidst a different tactical pattern, it seemed like they had lost the touch that distinguished them from other teams in the country.

Jamshedpur FC, on the other hand, is finding their identity under Scott Cooper. Their worries moving forward aside, the club is in a desperate need to secure a succession of wins to make something out of this season. They have lost five of their first nine games, and they now come across Bengaluru FC who themselves are in the process of overcoming similar challenges. It is a match of teams embracing difficulties that are alike at the moment, and who manages to oust whom will go a long way in determining their success.

What’s at stake?

Bengaluru FC

Bengaluru FC have a lot of corrections to do. They appeared to be slightly off-colour in their 2-0 loss to Chennaiyin FC, giving away two penalties that led to the Marina Machans bagging three important points at home. They garnered significant support at home despite the crushing loss to the Islanders, and hence can be rest assured that such warm backing will continue irrespective of the results at home.

The Blues have a responsibility to reciprocate to the fans that shower unconditional love and support towards them. Impressively, they have been unbeaten in their last four games against the Red Miners, and a victory here will take them to most games on a stretch without facing a defeat against any single club in competition history.

They are culpable of starting games slowly, leaking 11 goals in the first-half of matches this season. This is the most amongst all teams, but no team has scored fewer times (3) than Jamshedpur FC in this phase of the matches in ISL 2023-24 either. Both need to up their game in this regard to ensure that they head into the second half of the game high on confidence.

Watch the Highlights from BFC’s last match here:

Jamshedpur FC

Jamshedpur FC need to unleash greater attacking prowess, take the game to the opposition and shed any inhibitions to play fearlessly. At times, they seem too guarded and that perhaps takes the charisma out of their offensive unit. Individually, the likes of Rei Tachikawa, Jeremy Monzorro, Alen Stevanovic, and Daniel Chima Chukwu appear to be fantastic players, but somehow they have not clicked collectively yet.

They are winless in their last six games, which includes four losses, and that has hit their ability to make progressive moves higher up in the standings. The last time the Red Miners lost more away games on the trot was a stretch of five games between November 2022-January 2023, and they have a chance to make amends on that front against a fairly struggling Bengaluru FC unit.

In all fairness, they need to elevate their performance levels across departments, right from infusing greater creativity in their midfield to attacking with greater stealth. Once their players begin performing optimally, the entire side can come together and truly realise their potential, before it gets too late to maximise this campaign. Can Saturday be the start of something special for them? Let’s see.

Watch the Highlights from JFC’s last match here:

Key Players

Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)

Everyone tends to look up to the most experienced sailor in the ship at the time of a crisis. Bengaluru FC are in the middle of a rough patch right now but Sunil Chhetri has gone through this toil multiple times in the past. He has overcome them handsomely and bounced back stronger from setbacks on every single occasion.

With the arrival of a new coach, Chhetri will be targeting recovering back his rhythm, especially as an all-important month awaits him in India colours in January. He has scored thrice and assisted twice so far in this campaign, so it’s not like he has not been amongst the goals. However, the 39-year-old has a greater responsibility on his shoulders, which is to ensure that the shoulders of his teammates don’t drop at any point in the contest.

Daniel Chima Chukwu (Jamshedpur FC)

The Nigerian striker netted a 90th minute equaliser to help Jamshedpur FC get a point against Chennaiyin FC in their last fixture. Daniel Chima Chukwu has a formidable presence inside the box, which opens up different ways for Jamshedpur FC to attack at goal. They can create passing patterns, send low crosses into the box, and also opt for a more direct approach to make use of his aerial abilities.

He has 16 goals and three assists in 48 ISL appearances to his name, which boils down to a goal contribution every 178.73 minutes on the field.

Despite averaging only 12 passes per game, he creates nearly one goal-scoring opportunity every match and wins two aerial duels per 90 minutes too. This season, he has found the back of the net twice in eight appearances, though he is averaging only 60.75 minutes on field in every match. Perhaps, Cooper can contemplate giving him a lengthened role on the field, with more chances coming his way and subsequently greater chances of Daniel converting them to address Jamshedpur FC and their goal-scoring concerns too.

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Played – 12

Bengaluru FC – 5

Jamshedpur FC – 4

Draws – 3

Trivia: 43.7% of the passes attempted by Jamshedpur FC in the ongoing Indian Super League season have been forward passes, which is the second highest such aggregate by any team in ISL 2023-24.

Team Talk

“I am so happy to be here. It was a club that held my hand. The only club other than our Spanish ones that I always followed was BFC. We keep in touch always with the skipper and the people from the club. We always talked about the possibility to return. I am happy because this is the moment. BFC is not in a good moment now, and I am here to help the club to get to where they need to be,” Bengaluru FC head coach Gerard Zaragoza said in the pre-match press conference.

“We are different in a sense that Bengaluru came fourth last season, so they came into the season with high expectations. We had a good start, we lost four games albeit by very narrow scorelines. We have not conceded heavily in a loss. Every game that we have lost we have felt that we have a legitimate right to take points from that game. So, what do I expect from my team? We are a young team with new foreigners who are very new to the league. I am very clear with my philosophy as a coach that will never change. You can see as a team we don’t sit back, we do press the ball, possess it, we play a good brand of football,” Jamshedpur FC head coach Scott Cooper said in the pre-match press conference. 

ISL Fantasy

Sunil Chhetri (7.8cr)

Three goals and two assists so far this season for the BFC skipper

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (4.5cr)

Bankable bet between the posts, made three crucial saves in the last game

PC Laldinpuia (3.6cr)

Could be a bargain pick that can surprise many from this encounter

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