Bengaluru face on-song Odisha

Bengaluru face on-song Odisha

Odisha FC team during the practice session on the eve of their ISL match against Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. DH PHOTO/ BH SHIVAKUMAR

It’s a clash that pits the third-placed team against the fourth. The stuttering defending champions against the rising force and the most in-form team in the league. 

As Bengaluru FC face Odisha FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday, it’s a clash that can potentially define the season ahead for both teams.

BFC, who waltzed to the top of the league table the past two seasons, have struggled for consistency this time around another setback. 

With a win however, they can provisionally go atop the league.. Ever a club focused on continental performances, their dreams of being the first from the country to take part in the AFC Champions League - given to the league-stage winners - are quickly slipping away. After their lacklustre performance in their loss to Mumbai City FC in the previous game, they can ill-afford

“All games are important now,” admitted BFC coach Carles Cuadrat. “We hope the support of the people here to help us. We had good performances at home. We will fight for the three points again.”

On the other hand, Odisha are ‘overachieving’ in a season which has seen them shed the tag of Delhi Dynamos and switch cities.

They know little of home comfort having played seven matches on the road and three more at their ‘temporary home’ in Pune. In 13 games, they have played in Bhubaneswar thrice, winning all three, and all in their on-going four-game winning streak.

“We know that it will be a difficult game, one of the toughest teams and at a difficult Stadium to play at. But we are confident and in case we get a good result we can go ahead of BFC and this is our aim,” Josep Gombau said ahead of the clash.

Interestingly, both coaches were moulded within the famed walls of FC Barcelona but see football differently.

It’s fair to say that the Blues have stepped away from the possession-football they were once synonymous for. Under Cuadrat, they have given up the tippy-tappy football for one that has more bite. This BFC team, built on defensive solidity, are direct and play best on transitions.

But while that was successful last season, this year the foreign recruits - Raphael Augusto and Manuel Onwu - have struggled for fitness. Ashique Kuruniyan and Udanta Singh haven’t risen to expected standards.

All this has left them rather goal shy, except from Sunil Chhetri who continues carry the goal-scoring burden, so much so that they have called in the cavalry with Jamaican attacker Deshorn Brown.

On the other hand, Gombau, a Johan Cruyff devotee, has stuck to his belief of possession football.

While his team have been entertaining to watch this season, they’ve added ruthlessness in front of goal and experience in the middle to balance the youthfulness of the team.

They were naive the season before - even now at times - but the addition of former BFC midfielder Xisco Hernandez, who has five goals and two assists to his name, and striker Aridane Santana, top scorer with nine goals, have given them end product. However on Wednesday, they will miss influential duo Vinit Rai and Nandakumar.

Irrespective of how it pans out after 90 minutes, Kanteerava is sure to witness an entertaining contest.

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