The slate has been wiped clean and the margins get finer as Bengaluru FC take on NorthEast United FC in the first leg of the Indian Super League semifinal, to be played at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, in Guwahati, on Thursday. Carles Cuadrat’s men find themselves at this stage of the competition for the second year running and while the Blues’ Spanish boss lauded his team’s consistency, he said the league season would be down to three good games from here.
“It’s very clear for us at this point. To win this competition, we have to get the best from these play-off games. I think we have shown a lot of consistency because we have been at the top of the table for a lot of weeks. Across the last two seasons, we have claimed 74 points and finished on top both times, but it counts for nothing if we lose in the play-offs or the final,” said Cuadrat, addressing the media ahead of the game.
The Blues claimed a 1-1 draw through a late equalizer from Chencho Gyeltshen, when the sides faced off in Guwahati in December. The Bhutanese winger, who is currently on loan to NEROCA FC, was on the scoresheet once again when Bengaluru FC claimed a 2-1 win against the Highlanders in the reverse fixture. Bengaluru FC haven’t won on the road since the turn of the year, but Cuadrat denied that his side had a bad run of form.
“I have been hearing a lot of people saying that Bengaluru are not in a good form at the moment. But, since Christmas, we have won two games; which is the same as NorthEast United and Mumbai City. FC Goa, who were the only team that seemed to be in a good dynamic, came to Bengaluru and we beat them with 10 men; that’s football. I do not believe that we are having a bad run of form,” said the Spaniard.
The Blues will be without the services of defender Gursimrat Singh Gill, who picked up a suspension in the final League game against Jamshedpur FC, and Erik Paartalu, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Spanish midfielder Alex Barrera, who replaced the Australian on a short-term deal last week, may feature in Cuadrat’s plans for tomorrow.
“We earned the privilege of resting and preserving a few players because we won a lot of points in the initial stages of the tournament. I wanted to arrive to the final stages without any problems, but we lost Erik to an injury, which is a big blow because he is a very important player in midfield. And also, we will miss Gursimrat,” added Cuadrat. However, the Spaniard said that most players on his squad had found themselves in semifinal games before and he hoped the experience would count for the Blues.
NorthEast United FC, meanwhile, will be without central defender Gurwinder Singh through suspension, but will welcome back Colombian midfielder Jose Leudo who returns back to the fold after serving a one-game suspension for a red card against FC Pune City.
Bengaluru FC will be buoyed by their record in semifinal clashes, having progressed to the final each of the four times in domestic competitions. While the Blues claimed a 3-1 aggregate win over FC Pune City to reach the final last season, NorthEast United FC will be making their maiden appearance in the Indian Super League playoffs.
Eelco Schattorie’s side have conceded the least number of goals (18) in the League phase, and have been reliant on strikers Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego, who have 16 goals between them in the League phase. The Blues will have to be wary of Gallego especially, who scored both of NorthEast United FC’s goals when the two sides met in the League stages.
The game kicks off at 7.30pm and will be telecast live on the STAR Sports Network, Colors Kannada TV, Hotstar and JioTV, while live screening of the game will be held at Church Street Social.