Bengaluru, Chennaiyin renew rivalry

Bengaluru FC won 13 of its 18 matches last season but stumbled against Chennaiyin FC in the final.

Chennaiyin FC 's team trains ahead of the Indian Super League match against Bengaluru FC.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC will renew their rivalry on Saturday, at the same venue — Sree Kanteerava Stadium — where it all ended for both the teams in the previous season.  On March 17, Chennaiyin FC defeated Bengaluru FC for the second successive time at its own den. Tellingly, it came in the final and earned the team its second ISL title, leaving Bengaluru FC in despair. The home team had been enjoying a magical run until then which saw the debutants sitting atop the standings with a record 40 points after the regular season. The hard work of the entire season was undone by one night of Chennaiyin brilliance.

"We come to Bengaluru without any fear. We have a lot of respect for BFC. What they have achieved is outstanding. At the same time there is no fear. It throws up a fantastic opening game.  BFC obviously won't have the fondest of memories from March 17 earlier this year. They will come at us in full force," said Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory.

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The defending champion, however, will be without midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh who was ruled out indefinitely after suffering a ligament tear on his left knee during the pre-season camp in Malaysia. He underwent surgery on Friday and is unlikely to be available at least until the first half of the season.

Dhanpal, in fact, played his part in inflicting a 2-0 loss to Bengaluru FC in its home by scoring a spectacular goal during the league stage of the competition.  

"Losing someone of Ganesh's ability is obviously a big miss for us. But this is a chance for somebody else to step up. We will obviously have to change our style a bit to cope with his absence."

For a team that thrives on defense, it has more than enough options to fill in the void. Anirudh Thapa, 20, has shown much promise and will be keen to capitalise on the opportunity. The team also has the experience of captain Mailson Alves — who scored two goals in the final to earn the man of the match award and new signing Andrea Orlandi to fall back on. Gregory reasoned:  "Around this time last year, even Dhanpal Ganesh was not a mainstay player. You have to cope with players missing out."

"Whoever comes into the role Ganesh played, we're delighted for him, hoping he excels. But I can assure you, Ganesh will be a big motivation and inspiration for us to win the match," the Chennaiyin FC coach said.

While winning is certainly part of the plan for BFC, revenge is not the driving force, BFC's new head coach Carles Cuadrat said.

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"If you talk about revenge, you are not getting  the reality of the football game. We have been working on tactics and have the emotional quotient under control. It was a final. We are starting from the first game here.  We have to try and be better than them on the football pitch. It's not about the opponent," the BFC coach said.

"They come here to defend the title. They feel strong mentally. I don't think they are going to take a lot of risks in the first game. We will work on our weapons. We are not talking to the players about points or winning, it takes us to an emotional place. We prefer to analyse the game in a tactical way and to see which are our strengths and where we can make use of them against Chennaiyin FC in tomorrow's (Sunday) game," he said.

There are no injury concerns for the fairly well-settled team led by India captain Sunil Chhetri. There has been enough buzz about new signings Chencho Gyelthsen of Bhutan and Spanish midfielder Xisco Hernandez. "Everyone is ready and they want to showcase their talent," the coach said.

It is action time now.