The 2019-20 season was underwhelming for Bengaluru FC (BFC). For the first time in its seven-year history, the Indian Super League (ISL) club finished a campaign without winning any silverware. Over the next few months in Goa, it will look to set this record straight.
Last season, the towering Spanish centre-back pairing of Juanan and Albert Serran ensured that BFC conceded just 13 times in the league stage, the fewest by any team.
Behind them, goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu kept a league-record 11 clean sheets, including one in the semifinal playoff.
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Serran is no longer at the club, but the defence is expected to remain sturdy. Also, the retention of a core set of players is a big plus.
BFC’s 22 goals in 2019-20 league stage were just one better than bottom-placed Hyderabad FC. In the absence of Venezuelan Miku, who departed after winning the title in 2019, Sunil Chhetri has had to do all the heavy lifting.
Chhetri did score nine times, but an injury to Manuel Onwu – brought in to replace Miku – and below-par performances from Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan (one goal each) meant Chhetri had no support.
BFC mostly scored through set plays, and with midfield creator Raphael Augusto no longer with the outfit, there are big holes to fill.
Carles Cuadrat has been at the club for the better part of the last four seasons. He first arrived as Albert Roca’s assistant in 2016 and was crucial in the side’s two runner-up finishes – the AFC Cup 2016 and ISL 2017-18.
Cuadrat succeeded Roca ahead of the 2018-19 campaign and brought home BFC’s maiden ISL trophy. Under the Catalan, the team has largely played counter-attacking football and is known for its defensive organisation and dead-ball routines.
Ever since he joined BFC in 2013, Chhetri has been the club’s heartbeat. He may be 36, but he has aged like fine wine, still supremely fit and capable of lung-busting runs that can put most youngsters to shame.
His 32 goals over the last three seasons have ensured that BFC has not finished lower than third in the ISL. A motivator par excellence, Chhetri’s role will be central as the ISL steps into the sequestered world of a bio-bubble.
Defender Juanan and midfielders Erik Paartalu and Dimas Delgado are without doubt among BFC’s most important players.
Juanan will be the side’s longest-serving foreigner after John Johnson as he steps into his fifth season, while Paartalu and Delgado are into their fourth.
Centre-back Serran has been replaced by Fran Gonzalez, who won the I-League with Mohun Bagan last year. Much will depend on Jamaican striker Deshorn Brown, who came up with three goals from seven appearances in 2019-20.
The additions of Cleiton Silva, who has a rich scoring record in Thailand, and Kristian Opseth, who last played for A-League outfit Adelaide United, show that BFC is serious about solving its goal-scoring problem.
Best new pick
Fran Gonzalez was an integral part of Bagan’s I-League conquest last year. Adept both as a central defender and a defensive midfielder, the Spaniard started 16 games for the Kolkata giant.
The former Real Madrid youth product even ended up as Bagan’s joint-top goal-scorer with 10 strikes. BFC would be well-served if the 31-year-old can repeat the success.
Best possible formation
Coach Cuadrat’s trust in his wing-backs meant that for much of last season BFC had two overlapping wingers while on the attack (3-5-2) and defended with five men when under pressure (5-3-2). Delgado and Paartalu were the midfield mainstays, while Chhetri and Brown played up top.
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