Last year’s final right at the start

Bengaluru: It’s the first Super Sunday of the Hero Indian Super League new season as last year’s finalists, Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC, renew hostilities in their opening match at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru.

Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC were the two best teams in the ISL last season and played some engrossing matches. Whenever the teams played at the Kanteerava, it was Chennaiyin who emerged victorious, including the final.

Interestingly, both the teams were known for their set-piece expertise last season. While Carles Cuadrat helped Roca perfect set-piece routines which brought in eight goals for the Blues, while more than 50 per cent of the goals scored by the Marina Machans came from similar situations.

“The rivalry (between Chennaiyin and Bengaluru) is something I experienced for the first time last year. All three games against them were hard-fought. They had an outstanding team last year and it is going to be no different this year. It is going to be a very tough match,” said Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory.

Gregory takes the same team to Bengaluru that he had last year, except for midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh who is nursing an injury and has been ruled out for some time.

“Obviously, we will miss Ganesh. But we feel other people will have opportunities to get themselves a place in our team. Twelve months ago, Ganesh himself was on the bench but took his chance when he got it. It is time for the others in the squad to take their chances. But he (Ganesh) is a big miss for us in terms of his character and personality. Not to mention the important goals he has scored for us last season,” said Gregory.

For Bengaluru FC, this is Carles Cuadrat’s first stint as a head coach and the Spaniard will be looking to get off to the best possible start. The Blues dominated the league stages last season, finishing eight points clear of Chennaiyin FC. Much of that was down to the scorching pace they set at the start of the season, winning four of their first five matches.

Cuadrat will be hoping his side gets off to a similar start this time around as well and is not fazed that they will be up against the champions.

“We have to begin the season against someone, and if that someone is Chennaiyin FC, so be it. What’s important is that we go out there each time and put on a good performance. What matters is not who the opposition is, but that we focus on what we can do well,” said Cuadrat, who will be helped by new international signings like midfielder Xisco Hernandez, defender Albert Serran and winger Chencho Gyeltshen.