Bengaluru FC will lock horns against Chennaiyin FC at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru in their first game of 2018-19 season. Bengaluru will be fresh from their 3-2 loss to Chennaiyin FC in last seasons final where they were completely outplayed at their home by a well drilled Chennaiyin FC side. The tie will probably be the most exciting match in the first round of fixtures in the Hero ISL.
Bengaluru will have Carles Cuadrat who was their assistant manager for the last two seasons at the helm. The 49-year-old replaced fellow Spaniard Albert Roca who left the team after two seasons winning two cup titles and finishing runner up in the AFC Cup. Cuadrat had an underwhelming start to his Bengaluru FC career losing 5-2 on aggregate to Turkmen club Altyn Alsyr in the AFC Cup inter-zonal semifinals. The experienced John Gregory will certainly have an upper hand over Cuadrat who for the first time will be managing a club in a league game.
Bengaluru FC for the first time in their existence will go into the season without defender John Johnson who left them to join ATK, Lenny Rodriguez and Subhasish Bose are the other regular starters from last season who will be missing for the Blues. Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, will go into the game without their regular central midfield partnership from last season, Bikramjit Singh left for greener pastures at Delhi Dynamos while Dhanpal Ganesh will miss the majority of the season with an injury. They will also miss their captain from last season Henrique Sereno but have got an able replacement in Eli Sabia who last played in the Saudi League.
Line Up and Tactics
I expect Bengaluru FC to play a 4-3-3, similar to last season, after Cuadrat’s failure in the AFC Cup using a 4-4-1-1 formation. Cuadrat will prefer using an all foreigner central midfield with Paartalu, Dimas and Xisco to have midfield dominance something which they failed to have in last season’s finals.
Chennaiyin FC will have their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, and I expect Raphael Augusto to play as CM, a position he was playing in preseason after an injury to Dhanpal Ganesh. Anirudh Thapa who has been amazing as a central midfielder for India will probably partner Raphael in central midfield. Isaac Vanmalsawma, whom I consider one of India’s brightest attacking midfield prospects will be a favourite to play as a no 10. The rest of the lineup would be the same as last season.
Chennaiyin FC will prefer to sit back and play on the counter-attack, exploiting the lack of speed in Bengaluru’s defence. The lack of goals from the front line will be something which would worry John Gregory as Jeje could manage to score only in six of his 20 games last season while wingers Nelson and Francis could manage only goal apiece. Chennaiyin would also pose a great threat from set pieces, three out Chennai’s five goals at Bengaluru are from set piece situation.
Bengaluru will prefer to hold on to possession and dominate the midfield. I expect them to press hard on the ball, pushing Chennaiyin FC’s players back and hence preventing them to establish any sort of counter-attack. The front three of Bengaluru is very prolific, scoring over 40 goals in all competitions last season, Mailson Alves and co will have their task cut out against them.
Both Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC have some exciting players on the bench who can make instant impact the likes of Carlos Solom, Andrei Orlandi, Semboi Haokip, Chencho and Kean Lewis can be vital coming on late in the game.
The game would be between Bengaluru FC’s attack and Chennaiyin FC’s defence. Chennaiyin have won their last two games at the Kanteerava Stadium comfortably outplaying Bengaluru FC on both occasions. It’s pretty hard to predict a winner in this fixture but I expect a pretty exciting encounter. Will Chennai continue their dominance at Bengaluru? The Blues will finally prevail against Marina Machans at home? Well, let’s wait and see.