The final of the fourth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) is almost upon us. Bengaluru FC, playing their first ever ISL campaign, have stormed their way to the summit clash where they will take on Chennaiyin FC who will be appearing in their second final in four years.
Bengaluru FC literally walked their way to the top of the league standings before overcoming FC Pune City in the semi-final play-offs and now face Chennaiyin FC who finished second in the league. However, Chennaiyin FC had only 32 points after the league stage, a massive eight points shy of Bengaluru's total.
The Blues, with stars like Miku, Sunil Chhetri and Dimas Delgado in their squad, are indeed the punters' favourites to win the title but in Chennaiyin FC, they have a shrewd team standing in their way.
Not only have Chennaiyin defeated Bengaluru at the Kanteerava back in December but they have shown their defensive resilience against teams that hog possession like FC Goa plenty of times this season.
The well-drilled Chennaiyin defence can be hard to break down but most importantly, they play well within themselves and have an excellent work ethic. But the team is not all about defending. They pick their moments to attack and have excellent ball players in Raphael Augusto and Gregory Nelson. Both of them can dribble well and take on defenders with ease and are their main attacking outlets.
But John Gregory also has another ace up his sleeve if it comes to a point where he has to find more impetus in attack in the latter stages of a match. On his bench, he has two very creative players who can change games on their own in Rene Mihelic and Jaime Gavilan.
Mihelic is extremely good with his set-piece delivery - a weapon that has come to the aid of the Marina Machans more than once this season. Not only has the 29-year-old scored two goals in 14 appearances (six of them as a substitute), he has also clocked four assists.
One of them was from a corner he delivered at the very end of their home game against Jamshedpur FC which found Mohammed Rafi who headed in a dramatic equaliser in injury time. The Slovenian has also created four big chances as well and is a great asset for Gregory from the bench. It was Miheic's free-kick which was headed home by Dhanpal Ganesh against Bengaluru FC at the Kanteerava earlier in the campaign.
Another genuine attacking option Gregory has on the bench is Jaime Gavilan. The Spaniard, who was part of ATK formerly, has more often than not featured as a super-sub for the team. He has made 12 appearances but only four of them have been starts. He has an assist so far but his influence after coming cannot be judged by statistics.
An intelligent mover with the ball, Gavilan can unlock defences with relative ease and in the latter stages of the game, this ability comes in very handy. He is also left-footed, adding that bit of variety to the Marina Machans' attack and also is good with set-pieces.
In the second leg of the semifinal play-off against FC Goa, Gavilan came on in the second half and supplied the pass which led to Jeje's second goal which effectively killed off the tie. More importantly, both Gavilan and Mihelic are adept at playing in wide attacking positions as well and can mesh nicely with Raphael Augusto who likes to play from the middle.
Bengaluru FC certainly have some good players on the bench in the form of Toni Dovale, Alwyn George or even Boithang Haokip but they might not be of the same calibre as the attacking options Gregory has. That being said, Albert Roca's first eleven has some quality players and is more than good enough to beat any team, as they have already shown in the league stage.
However, Chennaiyin FC are a team which never gives up without a fight and the presence of two potent attacking options on the bench might just come in handy for Gregory.