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ISL 2019: Bengaluru FC rely on Sunil Chhetri to defend title

India’s most successful football club in recent years will be eager to establish their dominance once again as the new Indian Super League season kicks in.

ISL 2019: Bengaluru FC rely on Sunil Chhetri to defend title

Abhranil Roy

Published: 5 Oct 2019 10:42 AM GMT

Bengaluru FC is the defending Indian Super League (ISL) champions, and they will not relinquish their title easily. The Blues have been in the eye of a storm recently, with them probably having to play their home games in the Balewadi Stadium in Pune, 850 kms away from their regular base, the Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore.

This is because of their ongoing legal battle with the Karnataka Athletes Association which means that the champions may have to play both their ISL and AFC Champions League home games without the intense support of the famed West Block Blues. However, coach Carles Cuadrat will no doubt prepare his squad to overcome this mental block and perform to the very best of their abilities.

Setup this season

Bengaluru FC has had a distinct Spanish presence in their lineup ever since Albert Roca was hired and this season will be no different either. Last year, they scored the 2nd highest number of goals in the ISL, netting 34 in the 20 matches they played in. They also had the 2nd highest number of clean sheets, with goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu lifting the Golden Glove award for conceding a goal every 96.32 minutes.

Also read: An unending ruckus: Why AIFF should do everything to prevent Bengaluru FC from shifting to Pune

However, they will not have it easy this year. Cuadrat has lost two key pillars of his team in the form of Miku and Xisco Hernandez. Despite securing the services of Raphael Augusto, Ashique Kuruniyan, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Manuel Onwu, there is still a looming uncertainty about whether the new imports will click or not. The prolonged controversy regarding the Kanteerava will not help their players either, who have always banked on the vociferous home support to enable their cause in a difficult game.


Moreover, Sunil Chhetri, who is entering into the twilight of his career, will have more responsibility than ever to deliver once again and it will be interesting to see how the Blues cope if their captain draws a blank for a few games in a row. Rahul Bheke and Udanta Singh, who were both massive in their title charge last year, have had a poor run of form for India in the Intercontinental and Kings’ Cup which could be another cause of concern for Bengaluru FC. 

The squad

Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Aditya Patra, Prabhsukhan Singh Gill

Defenders: Albert Serran, Gursimrat Singh Gill, Harmanjot Khabra, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Parag Satish Srivas, Rahul Bheke, Rino Anto, Sairuat Kima.

Midfielders: Ajay Chhetri, Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Kean Lewis, Raphael Augusto, Suresh Wangjam, Udanta Singh.

Forwards: Edmund Lalrindika, Manuel Onwu, Ashique Kuruniyan, Sunil Chhetri, Semboi Haokip.

Key players

Manuel Onwu

Bought as the direct replacement for the prolific Miku, Onwu is the 13th Spanish player to join the ranks of the Blues. He scored 11 goals for UCAM Murcia last season but there are questions regarding his consistency and whether he can fit into the slower pace and tempo of Indian football.

Cuadrat, however, has no option but to ensure Onwu fits in seamlessly. Having let go of Boithang Haokip in the summer as well, the Spaniard will have to start filling the big boots left behind for him right away. 

Ashique Kuruniyan


A rising starlet for India under Igor Stimac, Kuruniyan was roped in from the now-defunct FC Pune City in the summer. Deployed as a wide forward, he rose to prominence last year with two goals and three assists for Pune City. There is no doubt that there will be a lot of expectations on the shoulder of the young Ashique, who will be tasked with the responsibility of providing service for Chhetri and Onwu. Cuadrat will no doubt hone his goal-scoring skills as well to provide his side with an extra option while under pressure, but it remains to be seen just how well the youngster rises to the challenge.

Sunil Chhetri

As has been the case with Bengaluru FC over the past 6 years, no season preview of theirs is ever complete without the mention of Sunil Chhetri. With 9 goals in 19 games in the previous campaign, Chhetri was the focal point of the Blues attack. There is no doubt that with the departure of Miku, he will have even more of a load on his shoulders but as history has shown us, Chhetri is more often than not up to the task. His increasing age has had no foreseeable effect on either his fitness or will though, and with his form for India looking as impeccable as ever he will most certainly be raring to go once again.


Carles Cuadrat, ever the objective tactician spoke to the media saying, "My message to the players and the supporters is the same from last season - we have to take it step by step. We have to achieve the results game by game and target the play-offs without thinking much about defending the title. There are ten teams playing and all these teams want to become champions at the end of the season. We have to give our best and try to fight for our objectives. We have to be as competitive as Bengaluru FC has been in the past, but at the same time, be grounded because it's going to be more of a mental challenge this season."

Given how competitive Bengaluru FC is, there is no doubt that anything less than being able to defend their title will be deemed as a failure by the club’s management. Bengaluru FC will take on last year’s semi-finalists Northeast United FC on the 21st of October. Their first away game is against FC Goa on the 28th.

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