ISL: Debutants Bengaluru ready for Mumbai City in epic contest

The Indian Super League (ISL) season 4 will witness a historic moment as Bengaluru FC face off against Mumbai City FC in their opener at the Kanteerava Stadium here on Sunday.

The Blues are the first club to make a switch from the Hero I-League and have so far won everything Indian football has to offer. And, they will make for a formidable opponent as they have proven time and again since their inception four years ago.

“For sure things have changed. We have to accept the new rules (playoff system) but it’s a long way until we can reach that. But even if we are new the goal is to reach that and we are ambitious (to be in the semifinals). For some players, they will also need to get used to this competition,” their head coach Albert Roca said when he was asked whether there would be a shift in the way BFC played their games.

“We will start the tournament in just the way we have played any other tournament, which is to take each game as it comes,” skipper Sunil Chhetri added.

Bengaluru’s Spanish coach was honest and “not complaining” that his team have had an earlier start due to their participation in continental (AFC) competition, compared to other teams which will play together competitively for the first time. At the same time, he said that there were still some foreign players who had not played with his core team so far. The club have managed to wrap up deals for foreign strikers Miku and Braulio and Roca said that this would add a missing threat to their side compared to last season.

There is an added dimension to the fixture, which is Chhetri facing his former Hero ISL team in Mumbai City. In an earlier interview, the Indian captain had said that he will probably not celebrate against his old team — but only out of habit.

Mumbai City may miss Chhetri this season, but they’ve signed Balwant Singh upfront. The striker has scored three times in four appearances for the national team after a breakthrough season. They will also miss tricky winger Sony Norde.

“We tried to solve all these changes – it was not just about them (Chhetri and Norde). It is about a lot of other players as well. But I am satisfied with how we have solved these individual absentees,” Mumbai City head coach Alexandre Guimarães said.

Guimarães’ team were miserly last season, conceding just eight goals in a remarkable run to the top of the league table. The Costa Rican said that the style played last season matched the “combination of foreign and local players” to achieve the position.

Guimarães named some attackers of Bengaluru, hinting that he may again go for a compact shape – but he had earlier said that Mumbai’s fans will certainly see a different approach with a longer season and more time to experiment with tactical systems.

But it’s not just former players knowing each other that will matter.

“I know Roca’s style because when I was in Costa Rica he was coach of El Salvador. His style there was not different to what he’s trying to do here. In the last two practice sessions, we did work on how to stop our opponents,” Guimarães said.

The match will be played in Bengaluru at 8 pm on 19 November. As Guimarães said, “it will be a very interesting game.”

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