Bengaluru no longer invincible, or is this a plan?

Four points in as many games since the month-long international break has taken away the aura of invincibility that surrounded Bengaluru FC.

Cuadrat has rotated his starting XI in the last few matches with the playoffs in mind.   -  ISL/ SPORTZPICS

Bengaluru FC looks like a different team than the one that started its Hero Indian Super League (ISL) campaign in a whirlwind manner.

The ISL finalist kicked off its campaign this season with a convincing victory over defending champion Chennaiyin FC, and even though it was held 2-2 by Jamshedpur FC at home, its six victories in a row was proof of its enormous strength. When in form, the Blues could steamroll opposition, and when not at their best, they could still grind out victories.

READ | Jeje, Nelson propel Chennaiyin to first home win

Since the long winter break for the Asian Cup 2019, the team has only managed to pick up just four points from as many games which included defeats to Mumbai City FC and Chennaiyin. In fact, it just about managed to pick up a point against Kerala Blasters after a shoddy display in the first half and it was the brilliance of goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, coupled with the wastefulness of NorthEast United’s attackers, which allowed the Blues to nick a win.

Such a poor run of results does not augur well for Bengaluru -- unbeaten in 11 matches -- towards the business end of the ISL. The all-important play-offs are less than a month away, so is there a cause for concern?

“We have been using one team while Miku was well and now we can rotate and rest players and it is a different team playing. So, they do not have the mechanics of the team that was playing in the first games of the season. I wanted to give some rest for the players since they are going to be important in the play-offs. You have to rotate to have players fit for the play-offs. This is our plan,” explained Bengaluru FC coach Carles Cuadrat.

Bengaluru was unbeaten in its first 12 matches of the league before the international break. PHOTO: ISL/SPORTZPICS

 

Bengaluru FC is on the brink of making it to the top four once again this season. It has 31 points already in 15 matches and considering that only 30 points were needed to clinch the play-off berth last season, it might already have sealed its place. That perhaps explains why Cuadrat has been rotating his squad by giving the likes of Edmund Lalrindika, Rino Anto, Gursimrat Gill, Ajay Chettri and others a chance to make an impression.

Since Miku’s return from injury, he has looked rusty. The same is the case with Nishu Kumar, who just got back to full fitness. Captain Sunil Chhetri underwent a lean patch of form in front of goal before scoring two goals in the last two outings.

Also, Bengaluru chose to let go of Chencho Gyeltshen on loan, despite the Bhutanese striker winning the side four points. New signing Luisma has looked short of match fitness.

Compared to last season, Bengaluru’s bench strength also seems underwhelming. Last season, they had the likes of Subhasish Bose, Alwyn George, Lenny Rodrigues, John Johnson, Toni Dovale and Edu Garcia to call upon at different times. Now, there are no big names waiting for their chance on the bench.

The rest and rotation may be part of a plan, but two defeats in four matches has taken away the aura of invincibility that surrounded Bengaluru. Teams will now take the field knowing they have more than a fighting chance of knocking out the Super Cup champion. Unless, in the next three games before the play-offs, Bengaluru returns to form and instill fear in the minds of its opposition, again.