It is unusual for a new franchise joining an established league to go into their debut season as one of the favourites but that is the situation Bengaluru FC found themselves in last season. Having only been in existence for four years, they had already won the I-League twice (including one in their debut year) and two Federation Cups. In international competition, they reached the final of the AFC Cup in 2016, the first Indian team to do so in the competition’s history.
It is understandable then that they were expected to do well in the 2017-18 ISL, unlike the other new entrant, Jamshedpur FC, who had only been recently formed. Their dominance in the I-League translated onto the big stage and the team topped the regular season table with the highest number of points in the league’s history (40) and the best goal difference ever (+19).
The team finished eight points ahead of second placed Chennaiyin going into the playoffs and looked good in all areas of the pitch. They scored the second most goals (35) and had the meanest defence in the league stage (16 conceded). After negotiating the semifinal round against Pune comfortably, not many were betting against Bengaluru winning their maiden title, especially since the final was on home territory at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in front of their passionate supporters. The script did not play out that way though and Chennaiyin deserved to win on the night.
Bengaluru go into this season looking to erase memories of that loss and start once more as many people’s favourites. Albert Roca has left his role as manager and left the reins to his assistant, Carles Cuadrat, which ensures continuity with the processes that have served the squad so well.
A few key players have exited in Subhasish Bose, John Johnson, Edu Garcia, Toni Dovale and Lenny Rodrigues and it remains to be seen if the replacements will cut it. Garcia, who was sold to Zhejiang Lǜchéng for an Indian transfer record $150,000 towards the end of last season, was sorely missed in that final. So was Bose, who missed the game through suspension, necessitating a switch to an unusual 3-5-2 in the most important game of the season.
Albert Serran has come in as a replacement for Johnson, for so long a mainstay of the Bengaluru defense. Rino Anto returns to the club where he made his name as does goalkeeper, Soram Poirei, as backup to Gurpreet Singh.
With the impressive numbers being racked up by the forward line and the defence, the work done by Bengaluru’s midfield flew under the radar last season and that is where they look a bit light this season. New signing, Xisco Hernandes will shoulder a lot of responsibility along with Erik Paartalu and Dimas Delgado, but the options on the bench have their work cut out.
Bengaluru have won a trophy every season since their inception. Whenever they have missed out on the league, they’ve won the Federation Cup or the Super Cup. Is this the year when that run comes to an end?
Last season’s finish: Runners Up (Regular Season – First)
Flying Goalie Prediction For This Season: Fourth (Qualify For The Playoffs)