The first leg of the ISL semifinal against ATK comes at a tough time for Bengaluru FC. The reigning champion has had to endure a heart-breaking midweek defeat in the AFC Cup playoff, leaving the club without continental group stage action for the second straight season.

If the deflating loss was not enough, the club has been sweating over the fitness of its best player, Sunil Chhetri. But on Sunday at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium it needs to somehow pick up the pieces and put its best foot forward.

“It doesn’t take a lot to get my players to be competitive,” coach Carles Cuadrat stressed on Saturday. “I think Sunil [Chhetri] is ready for the game and we are three games away from becoming champions. We need not punish ourselves for the things we did in the past. For the third season in a row we are fighting for the title while a lot of teams are already in their holidays.”

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It will certainly help that the semifinal and final offer a clean break from everything that has transpired in the league thus far. It’s a mini-tournament in itself, with the winner guaranteed a 2021 AFC Cup playoff spot. Following an up-and-down season, it’s a reward that the club will be desperate to secure.

But ATK will be no pushover. A two-time ISL champion, it has scored 33 times in 18 games, second only to FC Goa. Unlike BFC, which has solely depended on Chhetri, Roy Krishna, Edu Garcia, David Williams and Michael Soosairaj have combined to score 27 goals. What’s striking is the combination play among these four, something BFC needs to be wary of. 

At the same time, ATK has scored a mere 16 goals, with only BFC stingier at the back (13).

“I think it will be a very competitive match because two organised teams will be playing [against each other],” said ATK coach Antonio Habas. “BFC is balanced and very competitive and one of the favourites. Until now, they are the champions and we have to respect them.”

The game kicks off at 7.30 pm