ISL 2019-20: Bengaluru eyes winning start against new-look NorthEast United

Bengaluru FC is wary of NorthEast United FC, but the ISL defending champion, having reinforced a title-winning squad, will start as a favourite.

Carles Cuadrat and Bengaluru FC players in training on the eve of their opening ISL fixture.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Defending Indian Super League champion Bengaluru FC will begin its campaign against a fresh-look NorthEast United FC at Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Monday.

Bengaluru FC certainly looks the stronger unit with half of its squad being the first-choice picks for India coach Igor Stimac in the national team.

The franchise has compensated for the absence of its star striker Miku by signing Osasuna striker Manuel Onwu. Sunil Chhetri and Miku have scored a combined 47 goals for Bengaluru FC in the last two years of Indian Super League and the Venezuelan’s prolific goal-scoring record will be missed, but Cuadrat the team has enough options in its squad to not fret over his absence.

“One of the good things about this club is that we have some players, well actually most of them, who can play in multiple positions. There may not be the next Miku, their quality of football may be different, but they are all equally good,” the manager said.

If anything, the midfield options for Bengaluru FC are likely to be the envy of most clubs. The fact that new recruit Raphael Augusto, the most adored player in Chennaiyin FC, is not guaranteed a spot in the starting XI for Monday’s clash speaks volumes about the strength of the squad. Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu and India winger Ashique Kuruniyan are all vying for the midfield spots.

Read: Augusto, the cutting edge to Bengaluru's midfield

Midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who struggled to find a place during his stint with ATK after an injury, knows all too well it won’t be easy to make the first team. “We have a lot of good midfielders. It has been a tough road back after injury. Raphael, Dimas, Erik and all the other midfielders at this club are full of quality. They all have their different attributes and I have mine. I'm aware that I haven't played a lot of football lately, but I'm motivated by the challenge,” he said.

Cuadrat offered words of hope: “The most important news about the return of Eugene is that he has kept his 'gift'. He is a supremely talented midfielder, and we are working together. He has played more than 400 minutes in pre-season and he's getting ready to help the team.”

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NorthEast United FC players train at the Kanteerava Stadium ahead of their match against Bengaluru FC.   -  K. Murali Kumar

NorthEast United FC will once again start the new season with a new coach after the departure of Eelco Schattorie to Kerala Blasters. Schattorie may have taken along the team’s star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche, but new coach Robert Jarni will have at his disposal the service of the illustrious Ghanian Asamoah Gyan.

Cuadrat was wary about writing off the opposition before the start of the season. “NorthEast is a completely new team, and it's difficult to make any prediction about how they will play or where they will finish,” he said.

“We can talk a lot about them, but it's important to focus on ourselves. They have a few good new signings like Asamoah Gyan and a few options in the rest of the players. But we are going to focus on the way we play and how we prepare ourselves ahead of this game,” he said.

Ashique Kuruniyan, who was part of the Indian team which faced NorthEast United FC in a friendly warm-up game before the World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh, maintained that the Highlanders will pose a good challenge.

“I played against NorthEast United and they are a good outfit but I believe we can get a positive result against them,” he said.

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