There was a time, not so long ago, when Bengaluru FC was staring at a third straight below-par season. After collecting just 10 points from the first 12 matches, the 2018-19 Indian Super League champion seemed set to miss out on a playoff spot even in a generous, new format where six out of 11 teams would make the grade.
But with eight wins on the trot, Simon Grayson’s side has not only stormed into the playoff round but is the favourite going into the single-leg knock-out contest against Kerala Blasters FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Friday. At stake is a spot in the semifinal against Mumbai City FC.
With just one win from the last five outings and none from the previous six away fixtures, KBFC will need an inspirational performance. For that, two figures who can enliven proceedings, Adrian Luna and Dimitrios Diamantakos (10 goals), cannot be as silent as they were in the most recent tie between the two sides (a 1-0 home win for BFC last month).
Part of it was also down to BFC’s defence – just six goals conceded in the last eight matches – led by the outstanding Sandesh Jhingan, who will look to continue in similar vein.
In Javi Hernandez, BFC has a gamechanger, and in Roy Krishna and N. Sivasakthi, an in-form front two. KBFC will have to stop the trio that has accounted for 17 of BFC’s 27 goals this season. But without midfielder Ivan Kaliuzhnyi (suspended), it will be quite a task.
To avoid fan clashes of the kind witnessed in the previous fixture between Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters FC, supporters of both clubs will be segregated for Friday’s knockout contest. Travelling supporters found in possession of tickets to stands other than those designated will be moved to one of the away stands (if seating is available) or denied entry to the stadium, the clubs jointly resolved.
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