Bengaluru: Having created history by making the final of the AFC Cup last season, Bengaluru FC will look to kick off the latest chapter in their history, the one with their future escapades in the Indian Super League, when they host North Korean side April 25 in the Inter-Zonal semifinal first leg at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, on Wednesday.
While the move to ISL did cause an upheaval in their squad, the Blues managed to retain more than a handful of the side that played the final in Doha last season. Having said that, there is no denying the distinct whiff of an unknown around the team and how they will be set up, going forward.
“I would’ve liked more time to prepare,” stressed Albert Roca on the eve of the match. “Less than a month with a new squad. We have to create the same feeling we had in the last part of the last season. It’s easy to kick the ball and run, but the way we want to play the game, it’s difficult. For that I need more time. “It doesn’t meant that we can play like Barcelona. We have to see what is possible and good for us and build from there. But there is motivation and the players are hungry,” he added.
If their task wasn’t hard enough, it becomes increasingly so, considering the scanty information available about their opponents, with a grand total of two matches on offer, for preparation and research.
The Spanish duo of head coach Albert Roca and his assistant Carles Cuardet built their AFC Cup challenge last season on the back of a strong defensive ethos, and looking at the current squad, it’s difficult not to draw parallels.
With players like Harmanjot Khabra, Rahul Bheke, who can operate at multiple positions, there is no lack of versatility in the defensive third in case the coach wants to change the system around. Full back Subhasish Bose and center half Zohmingliana Ralte add steel to the back line which, however, will be missing the rock-solid John Johnson, BFC’s longest-serving foreigner.
Having favoured a three centre-back system last season, Roca might just be tempted to shift to a 4-3-3 variant for the tie considering the options available.
Indian No. 1 Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, a towering presence in the box, is also likely to make his debut for the club.
Moving up the field, Erik Paartalu is set to anchor the midfield while Dimas Delgado will be tasked with the creative duties. It was Alvaro Rubio playing in that role that made all the difference for the hosts in Asia last season, and the coach will be expecting similar things from the Barcelona graduate. Antonio Dovale and Udanta Singh’s pace and captain Sunil Chhetri’s guile will also be key in Roca’s plan.
For the visiting side, a lot will ride on the shoulders of striker Kim Yu-Song. The 25-year-old has been the standout performer for the team, which includes four national team players, and his explosiveness will give the visitors their best chance to rattle BFC. Their defensive record, just three goals conceded in the Group stage, also shows the shift put in by the players in keeping it tight at the back....