ISL 2018-19: In-form Bengaluru FC to lock horns with ATK

BFC is still unbeaten and ATK will need a special effort to dent that record.

After successive draws, Bengaluru FC will want to end the year on a high.   -  K. Murali Kumar

After successive draws, Bengaluru FC will want to end the year on a high when it faces ATK at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Thursday.

The tie away to NorthEast United last week will be seen as a tough point earned but Sunday’s stalemate will have frustrated BFC. The side failed to beat a Mumbai City unit that was reduced to 10 men for much of the second half.

Carles Cuadrat, though, was not concerned. “People sometimes forget that we’re playing against another team that also has a plan and is playing well,” the BFC head coach said. “We did everything to score the second goal. In the end, one point was not so bad.”

The absence of Miku is forcing BFC to come up with alternative plans; it is not only the Venezuelan’s goals that are missed but also his excellent link-up play. In Guwahati, BFC started as a 4-1-4-1 on the pitch.

Against Mumbai, Cuadrat had reverted to a 4-3-3 with Chencho Gyeltshen playing through the middle. But the Bhutanese was withdrawn at half-time, after which Sunil Chhetri moved into the centre.

Semboi Haokip did his best but could not make an impact. “We’ve played five games without Miku and taken 11 points from those; we have to be happy,” said Cuadrat. The Spaniard welcomed the international break; it gave Miku time to recover.

The fact remains, though, that BFC is still unbeaten and ATK will need a special effort to dent that record. The Kolkata side is clearly affected by the absence of Kalu Uche and Emiliano Alfaro, for it has managed only 10 goals all season – only bottom-placed Delhi Dynamos has fewer (nine).

An uphill task

Three of ATK’s last four games have been goalless draws; the one exception was the 3-2 win over Chennaiyin, but two goals that evening came from the penalty spot. Yet, Steve Coppell’s men remain just a point outside the top four, not having lost in five matches.

The team’s last defeat came, incidentally, against BFC in October. “BFC are unbeaten and it’s not an accident,” said Coppell, a former Manchester United winger. “We’re expecting a very tough game.”

The match will mark the return of John Johnson, a fan favourite during his five years at BFC, to the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

BFC, meanwhile, will be without Harmanjot Khabra, who is serving a one-game suspension after picking up his fourth yellow card of the season. That will necessitate more changes but Cuadrat will hope his men can deliver victory before the long international break.