All of Bengaluru’s worries in the buildup to the new season have been outside the pitch. A legal challenge against the use of the Sree Kanteerava stadium for their home fixtures has only just been resolved, albeit temporarily. The club faced the prospect of moving to Pune this season, which would have been a shame, given the enormous swell of home support they enjoy at the Fortress. There are valid questions being asked regarding their use of the multi-purpose stadium, but that is a discussion for another day. For now, frantic efforts are on to ensure that the turf is ready when the defending champions walk out for the first game of the campaign.
They will do so with a settled squad, an uncommon occurrence in the ISL. Bengaluru have kept faith with the players who delivered the title last season and have added very few players to the first team squad. Raphael Augusto is the standout pick and he joins after a few outstanding seasons at rivals, Chennaiyin FC. He will add creativity and craft in the middle of the park and replaces Xisco Hernandez, who has left for Odisha FC after one season at the club.
Ashique Kuruniyan is an interesting signing. Deployed as a winger for both FC Pune City and India, he has found a few minutes this year partnering Sunil Chhetri in a front two, most famously against Thailand in the 4-1 win at the Asian Cup. Carles Cuadrat prefers a 4-2-3-1 but the tall Keralite provides him with another dimension to his attack with his ability to play across the forward line.
Goalscoring is not his forte though, nor is it for Udanta Singh, and Manuel Onwu will share that responsibility with Chhetri. He has big boots to fill after the departure of Miku for Cypriot club, Omonia Nicosia. Onwu does not have a prolific scoring record and Cuadrat will possibly use him in a very different way to the Venezuelan striker. Eugeneson Lyngdoh makes an emotional return to the club where he made his name but will be behind Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu in the pecking order.
The backline remains the same with Prabhsukhan Singh Gill the only addition as reserve goalkeeper. The former Indian Arrows custodian will further his education at the club but will see very little playing time, if at all. Bengaluru displayed defensive solidity for the most part last season but a few chinks in the armour were exposed by teams like Mumbai and NorthEast United who played on the counter with speedy frontmen.
It wasn’t smooth sailing elsewhere as well and the Blues were nowhere close to the well oiled machine they had been in their inaugural season in the league. For all the silky play however, they did not win the title that year and Cuadrat probably appreciates the dogged displays from last season more. Bengaluru found a way to win games most times they were pushed into a corner and that is the mentality that drives championship winning sides.
The vulnerabilities will rear their heads at some point this season, but it remains to be seen if the chasing pack can exploit them this time around. For now, the Blues start as firm favourites to retain their title.