Indian Super League leaders for three straight weeks, Bengaluru FC believe the fight to extend their stay on pole position will be anything but easy when they take on NorthEast United at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, in Guwahati, on Friday.
Albert Roca’s Blues, who got their Indian Super League campaign off to an impressive start arrived in the Northeast Indian state on Wednesday and put in a session the day after. “NorthEast United look like a side that’s getting into a rhythm. They looked very organised against Delhi and the way they went about the win tells us how ready they are for us,” said Albert Roca while addressing the press on the eve of the game.
In NorthEast United the Blues are up against a team coming into this game on the back of a win and Roca believes the Joao De Deus-coached side will ride on the impetus. “NorthEast are playing in front of what I am certain will be loud home support and will look to build on their first win of the season. We, on the other hand, are looking to fix the mistakes we made in Goa. We have our task cut out and will have to dig deep to come away with a result.”
Faced with a goalkeeper situation after No.1 choice Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was handed a two-match ban following his sending off in Goa and Abhra Mondal suffering a hamstring tear in the same game, Bengaluru have brought back Lalthuammawia Ralte into the squad as a replacement for Mondal who could be out for a minimum of four weeks. The League gave the green light on Ralte’s inclusion on Wednesday evening.
Also making a return to the squad is experienced midfielder Dimas Delgado who missed out on three games with a fractured toe and it needs to be seen how Roca will draft the Spaniard as part of his plans on Friday.
In attack, Bengaluru have been a delight to watch. Venezuelan striker Miku has only shown flashes of the quality he possesses in front of goal while midfielder Erik Paartalu has risen to nod home three times in as many games from set-pieces. Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh bring with them experience and pace enough to rattle the best of defences in the League.
But it is the defensive organisation that the Blues will look to get in order. A few lapses proved costly against FC Goa who, even with a man more for most part of the game, only just managed to eke out a win. “We studied our defeat last week and the team is keen to work on the areas where we were weak,” added Roca.
While the hosts are high on morale coming into the game, their only home fixture this season against debutants Jamshedpur FC ended in a goalless draw. Nonetheless, the Highlanders bank heavily on home advantage, as is evident by their record of having claimed 10 of their 15 wins in the competition at home.
In an interesting bit, ex-Blues Malemngamba Meitei, Seiminlen Doungel and Gursimrat Singh Gill are part of NorthEast’s ranks while former Highlanders Zohmingliana Ralte and Boithang Haokip ply their trade at the Blues currently.