Bengaluru FC will look to put two seasons of disappointment behind as it begins its 2021-22 Indian Super League campaign against NorthEast United FC at Bambolim in Goa on Saturday.
Last season was especially hard, as the club finished seventh, largely playing uninspiring and one-dimensional football. Unsurprisingly Marco Pezzaiuoli, the new head coach, has made “playing a better kind of football” his target.
“We have tried different systems in the pre-season and we are prepared to play all systems,” the Germany-born Italian said in the lead-up. “But the principles are the same. Two strikers or three strikers, with the ball, or without, the transitions etc.”
“In the last two friendly games, we were good. We created chances. We had just nine players in the pre-season initially. Then the national team players went away. Some came back sick.
These are not problems per se, but they don’t help us be at the highest level. We are at 75% may be. I think we are prepared.”
The squad has changed significantly. Four first-choice starters in defenders Rahul Bheke and Juanan, and midfielders Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu have moved on. The foreign-player roster, except for Cleiton Silva, is brand new.
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The side will thus revolve once again around Sunil Chhetri. The 37-year-old forward is still fit as a fiddle, but he will need much more support from his fellow attackers than last year.
Udanta Singh, once marked out for great things, has plateaued, and will be keenly watched. So will the role of Congolese striker Prince Ibara, as BFC looks to recapture its once ferocious firepower upfront.
NEUFC, however, is no pushover. The Khalid Jamil-coached side finished third last season and has managed to hold on to its most creative player in Federico Gallego.
The addition of Hernan Santana, a defensive mainstay in the title-winning Mumbai City FC side last season, will also help.
But the absence of Lalengmawia ‘Apuia’, will be felt, with the midfielder moving to Mumbai after an outstanding 2021-22 campaign. Hard work is something Jamil swears by. He will need all of it and more from his wards.
“Expectations are going to be high this season so we have to do well,” Jamil said, on match-eve. “Against Bengaluru FC, we need a good start. Defensively we have to be strong, attacking-wise we have to be sharp. And we must play as a team to help each other.”