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ISL 2017: Rahul Bheke's time for redemption as Bengaluru FC visit Kerala?

07:32 GMT 27/12/2017
Rahul Bheke; Bengaluru FC; Jamshedpur FC
The former Mumbai FC defender started his Indian Super League journey at Kochi but endured a largely forgettable spell...

There are several interesting sub-plots to the Indian Super League (ISL) game between Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi on December 31st, given that several players set to be involved in the tie have turned out for both clubs in the past. Not to mention the recently flared up rivalry between West Block Blues and Manjappada - the fan groups of the two clubs. 

One such notable subplot involves Bengaluru FC's utility defender Rahul Bheke. The centre-back, who can operate as a full-back on either side of the defence, started his ISL journey with the team he is about to face on the coming Sunday. 

The former Mumbai FC man was roped in by Kerala Blasters ahead of the second season of the IMG-Reliance backed league only as a last-minute replacement for the injured Nirmal Chettri. He operated as the right wing-back under English manager Peter Taylor and made an instant impact for the team. 

He caught the attention of the fans and pundits in the very first game against NorthEast United which Kerala won 3-1, where he played a huge role in two of those goals. But what stood out was his extraordinary ability to launch long throw-ins into the box from advanced positions. So much so that, Kerala saw a set-piece opportunity whenever the ball went for a throw in. 

But after the initial success, Kerala's season floundered and so did Bheke's fortunes. Peter Taylor was sacked six games into the season and Bheke's defensive performances left a lot to be desired, though his long throw-ins were still useful in attack. 

In 14 games that season, Kerala conceded 27 goals, winning just the three matches. Bheke, who played as the wing-back in Taylor's 5-3-2 and as an orthodox right-back in stand-in manager Terry Phelan's formation, made quite a few defensive mistakes which ended up costing the side. 

The 27-year-old was at fault during crucial times in games, with Delhi notching a win in Kochi with a late goal that started from the left wing. ATK also notched a dramatic 3-2 win at Kochi and the winner came from a cross which was not closed down by Bheke. 

Notably, Nicky Shorey, who was playing as a left-back for FC Pune City, found plenty of freedom down Bheke's wing and notched three assists in one game as Kerala went down 2-3 in Maharashtra. 

It was no surprise that Kerala did not opt to recruit Bheke again for the next season where he would play for FC Pune City before being picked up by Bengaluru FC in this season's player draft. 

While his ability to play as a left back and a centre-back has come of use for Albert Roca, Bheke's careless mistakes have cost Bengaluru points this season. His silly foul on Sameehg Doutie at the very end gifted Jamshedpur FC all three points at the Kanteerava stadium recently. In the game against FC Goa, which Bengaluru lost 4-3, Bheke was hauled off in the 36th minute when Gurpreet Sandhu saw a red card. 

He also conceded the free-kick against Chennaiyin FC which led to Dhanpal Ganesh's late winner earlier this month. 

Now, as he returns to the venue where he sky-rocketed to national attention, Rahul Bheke has a lot to prove. He needs to reinforce his worth at Bengaluru FC and make a statement to his former employers.