Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson stated that the absence of Sunil Chhetri due to his participation in the Asian Games will not affect his side's preparations as they face Kerala Blasters FC in the opening game of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kerala, on Thursday.

Having reached the final of the ISL Cup last season, the Blues will hope to go one step better and win it for the second time in their history.

Bengaluru FC started their pre-season preparations in the month of August, while their reserve team put a commendable performance in the recently concluded Durand Cup 2023.

So, the fixture against rivals Kerala Blasters FC will be an early test of their credentials, one which they will have to face without their captain.

"When we look at our squad, with Sunil away with the national team, we dealt with the situation with the national team. Sunil wanted to represent his country and we were happy for Sunil to go to the Asian Games. However, we have got a strong and experienced squad with experienced players who could have potentially gone to the Asian Games. We feel we have got a good squad to start the opening game tomorrow night,” Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson said at the pre-match press conference.

"Whoever is picked for the game will do his absolute best to help Bengaluru FC on Thursday night,” he added.

Bengaluru FC qualified for the ISL 2022-23 playoffs after an extraordinary run of games in which they won nine league games on the bounce. Their form during the start of last season was not great, but they pulled themselves together at the business end of the season and won a number of matches on the trot which propelled them to the fourth position and helped them qualify for the playoffs.

The Bengaluru FC head coach reiterated that the team performed well on the pitch even without Sunil Chhetri for a major part of the ISL 2022-23 season.

"Last year we did not have Sunil Chhetri I'm the starting XI because I left him out. Other players came to the forefront and did what they did. Competition for places is what football's all about, all around the world. So yes, we would like to have Sunil in the team but we respect his decision to represent his nation,” Grayson said.

"Thursday is a chance for whoever starts to perform well and hopefully stay in the team for the next game,” he added.

Simon Grayson also said that he is happy with the squad at his disposal this season.

"I'm really pleased with the squad that we have got this year. It is different to last year. We let a number of players go and brought some fresh faces to the group. So, we feel that we have got a different type of group and there is competition for places in the squad.”

The Englishman also spoke about his plan to deal with the atmosphere away from home in their opening fixture where the Kerala Blasters FC fans are expected to make it a hostile atmosphere for the visitors.

"Regardless of whoever you play in the opening game of the season, when you are away from home it is always going to be a hostile atmosphere and Thursday is one of the hostile atmospheres you can have for an opening fixture. If you are a good player, you want to be playing in front of a full house. This type of atmosphere can bring out the best in players,” Grayson said.

"We know what we need to do. We have discussed about what to do tactically and how to prepare mentally for these types of games, we have a number of players who have experienced this before so I think all the players should be looking forward to these types of games,” he added.

Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters FC have played 14 matches against each other in the past with Bengaluru FC winning 8 of those matches and Kerala Blasters winning 3 matches. There have been only three draws in this fixture previously.

Bengaluru FC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu accompanied Simon Grayson in the pre match press conference ahead of the big game against Kerala Blasters FC.

The goalkeeper has been a part of the Bengaluru FC setup since the ISL 2017 season. He has been one of the top goalkeepers in India and has experienced the intensity of this fixture several times. He is looking forward to the game on Thursday and is hopeful that the team can get a positive result.

"We have been looking forward to this game for quite some time. We have been preparing well for the last few weeks. It is a big game for us in which we need to make sure we perform well, play to our strengths and get a positive result and go back to Bangalore with smiling faces,” the custodian said.