Bengaluru FC are all set to start their title defence on Monday, 21st of October against NorthEast United at Kanteerava Stadium.
Bengaluru FC managed a come-from-behind win over the Highlanders in a two-legged semifinal playoff last season. However, much has changed since then. Northeast United have refreshed their squad and Bengaluru FC has recruited some new faces as well.
The Blues would be looking to be the first team in the history of ISL to defend the title successfully. The core of the Bengaluru side, which has been together for more than a couple of seasons, is tipped to be one of the greatest advantages they have.
Still, Bengaluru FC has added some new members to their squad over the season break. As their star striker Miku left the club, Manuel Onwu was brought in from Osasuna to fill in his boots. The prolific pairing of Miku and Chhetri has seen them score 47 goals across two seasons of ISL, a feat, they hope, Onwu would successfully emulate. They have also acquired the likes of young Indian prospect Ashique Kuruniyan, old horse Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who returns to the club after a brief stint at ATK, and Raphael Augusto from Chennaiyin FC.
NorthEast United FC
NorthEast United have never been afraid of freshening things up ahead of a new season. They have let a host of players leave along with their coach Eelco Schatorrie. Their prolific goalscorer, Bartholomew Ogebeche, goalkeeper TP Rehenesh, Seityasen Singh have all followed their boss to Kerala Blasters. The midfielder, Rowlin Borges, has left the club as well.
The Highlanders, however, have managed to rope in some impressive players over the season break. Milan Singh and Maximilliano Barrera are two impressive signings which they managed. The most striking signing, however, is the Ghanaian striker, Asamoah Gyan.
The new Northeast United coach, Robert Jarni, faces a stern test in his first match in charge. The champions, however, are wary of the unpredictability that the Highlanders bring to the table. The past records show that Bengaluru has an edge over NorthEast United as they lead 4-1 in the head-to-head battle.
Carles Cuadrat’s side, however, has quite a few players joining them late due to World Cup qualifiers. Whether or not the lack of preparation-time affects the performances remains to be seen as both the teams kick off their ISL 2019 season.
We interacted with Ivan Basumatary — the head of NEUFC’s Official Fan Club, a season-ticket holder, and an ardent fan — about the possible outcome of the game, his team’s chances this season and much more. Excerpts :
Q: How is NEUFC gearing up for the new season?
A: Looking at the pre-season, so far we had positive results against a few decent teams in the pre-season and also two decent scores against former I-League Champions, Minerva Punjab FC and India National Team. But I feel we still have to improve our midfield and wing play if we are to leave an impact this season.
Q: Which players are you looking forward to this season?
A: Tbh, we look forward to each and every player giving their best. But I feel Martin Chavez has an important shoe to fill i.e Federico Gallego’s since he is still recovering from his career-threatening injury. Then Asamoah Gyan’s experience will be something that every football lover and not just North East fans are waiting to witness. Putea, Redeem, Rakesh, Ninthoi, Mawaia, Wayne are some young Indian players who will have an impact. Kai Herring’s is another player who everyone should be wary of. And who can ignore Jose Leudo, the Bulldozer.
Q: What is your (NEUFC) realistic aim for the campaign?
A: Hoping for a top 4 finish like every other season. Can’t really give a realistic picture without seeing a few league games.
Q: Which players from BFC are you worried about on Monday?
A: Chettri as usual. Give no space to him if we are to keep him under control. Udanta, Ashique and Raphael Agusto
Q: Finally, what is your prediction for your opening game of the season?
A: As we play Bengaluru away, I feel we can come with a point. A win will be the perfect way to start the season.