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ISL 2019-20: Bengaluru FC back to being strong contenders after slow start

8:37 AM GMT+4 10/01/2020
Bengaluru FC
The defending champions opened the season with lacklustre performances but are slowly reinstating themselves as the favourites...

Bengaluru did not have a perfect start to their Indian Super League (ISL) season. They could manage just three points from their first three games and found the back of the net only once.

Carles Cuadrat’s men then gained some momentum with wins over Chennaiyin FC, Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC. But they were then subjected to defeats against Mumbai City FC and ATK, outplayed on both occasions in all the departments. With two wins and more importantly, two strong performances, Bengaluru have reinstated themselves as one of the favourites.

That the defending champions were a shadow of their former selves despite staying unbeaten for seven games was also the opinion of Australian midfielder Erik Paartalu.

“We had a slow start. There were a few issues we had to iron out, and we have rectified them now. I think you are going to see a strong finish from our side at the end of the season,” he told Goal.

Cuadrat had a tough task at hand, with major improvements required in all departments. Among other problems, the surrender of control in midfield and lack of prolificacy in the final third stood out.

All players have stepped up a notch to help their team to two big wins. But Sunil Chhetri and Paartalu have been the stand-out performers who have played a major role in eradicating the above challenges.

The skipper was a live wire on the left wing against Jamshedpur FC, contributing heavily in attack and in defence. Like most players in the squad, Chhetri too enjoyed a poor start to his season. But with back-to-back stellar performances against Goa and Jamshedpur, he is showing signs of peaking at a crucial time in the season.

Against the Men of Steel, the 35-year-old scored a goal, completed all the four dribbles he attempted and won two tackles. There was probably just one player on the pitch who had a greater impact on the game.

Paartalu has established himself as the spine of Bengaluru’s midfield. With Dimas Delgado assigned the creative duties, the Australian looks to control the tempo of the game and throw in the dirty tackles when needed.

He has been crucial to the team’s success even on the occasions when he could not register or provide a goal. The Australian commented on how the team is working hard to peak at the right time to get that AFC Champions League spot by topping the ISL table.

“In my position, you never really get noticed unless you score a goal and make an assist. I think I have four assists and two goals and it’s probably better than any tally I’ve had so far. I want to continue to build on that. This year is a big year for me and the club. We want to push for the Champions League spot,” he claimed.

Ashique Kuruniyan displayed promise and substance against Jamshedpur and was among the top performers. The new-signing has shown glimpses of potential inconsistently this season and has usually lacked substance. But against the Men of Steel, he possessed the end product and was inches away from scoring on two occasions.

Aggressive pressing, a higher work-rate and more conviction going forward, it’s clear that Bengaluru are pushing harder as a team than they did earlier this season. It’s fair to say that the defending champions are back to being strong contenders, while they could easily have gone eight points behind Goa just one week ago.