It has not been the title defence Chennaiyin would have wanted with the team languishing at the bottom of the table with just one win to show from their 14 games so far.
While the two teams might be at the opposite ends of the league table, Chennaiyin boss John Gregory knows what is at stake for the fans come Saturday.
“It’s Bengaluru FC. Obviously, the rivalry was very evident last season. This time last season we were first and second and trying to finish No.1. There was a lot at stake. It’s not quite the same for us this time around. There is a lot of pride at stake between the two teams. Rivalry on and off the field with our fans and their fans. We were fortunate to come out on top last year and our support was fantastic last year,” the Englishman stated.
“We were proud of the way they followed us last year. We are immensely proud of them this year. They continue to support us despite the way our season has gone on. Especially when we see so called big clubs of ISL not getting fans in anymore after the results have not been there.
“They (fans) expect victory against Bengaluru FC and it might give us and them some self-esteem. Our fans will take a win over Bengaluru as a compensation. It is a huge game for us and for Bengaluru. We want to pay our fans back for their patience.”
“Bengaluru are playing very well, just like last year. They keep managing to get results even when their performances have not been one-sided like last year. They seem to find a way to get last minute goals, like they did against Kerala Blasters. It is in their DNA. They play right to the final whistle and they have players who can do that, especially with Miku coming back,” the Chennaiyin coach said.
With their ISL playoff hopes having evaporated a long time ago, Chennaiyin might be tempted to concentrate their energies on their AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup preliminary stage playoffs. Gregory, though, is hoping to strike a fine balance between the two competitions and the Super Cup.
“The AFC Cup is always on the back of the head. We have seven foreign players on our rolls. But we can play only three and one Asian player in the AFC Cup. When we realise that the play-off is going to be behind us, the attention does drift over to the Super Cup and the AFC Cup. We have put some plans in with regards to that when it comes to squad composition. But we have not taken our attention away from the ISL,” Gregory explained.
The defending champions managed to secure the services of Kerala Blasters’ CK Vineeth on loan till the end of the season and Gregory is hoping that the forward can bang in the goals in the games to come.
“CK has had a difficult time and this is a fresh opportunity. He has scored and has endeared himself to the supporters. He has the chance to put himself in the shop window by playing. The contracts of players are up in the summer. He has a chance to sell himself to clubs, including us. Goalscorers are usually the most expensive people on your payroll. CK is one of those guys who has scored regularly in the ISL,” the Englishman stated.
Another player brought in by the struggling club in the January transfer window is Chris Herd and Gregory is expecting big things from the Australian midfielder.
“Herd is a tough cookie. He is certainly something we have missed earlier. We wanted that fire in midfield ever since we lost Bikramjit Singh to Delhi Dynamos. And obviously we have missed big Dhanpal Ganesh. And Chris brings that to the team. He has good feet, a tidy passer and brings more steel to our midfield. We have missed that aggressiveness. He also qualifies as our Asian player for AFC Cup, being an Australian,” he said.