14:30 GMT, Friday 16th February, Sree Kanteerava Stadium (Bengaluru, India), Sab TV UK
The league leaders Bengaluru get ready to host second-placed FC Pune City, as the Stallions aim to qualify for the playoffs with a win in their next game.
The Blues are on a five-game winning streak and have already beaten Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa convincingly in their last two fixtures and are now the first team to qualify for the playoffs.
Ranko Popovic’s Stallions will be eager to grab their playoff spot with a win in their next match having won four of their last five encounters, though a win will still leave them two points adrift of the top spot.
Last Time Out
Bengaluru FC 2-0 FC Goa (Indian Super League)
Faced with fatigue and injury Albert Roca brought in Nishu Kumar, Dimas Delgado, Toni Dovale and Semboi Haokip as Udanta Singh, Subhashis Bose and Erik Paartalu shifted to the bench while Miku was left out of the matchday squad for a muscle overload.
It was supposed to be a battle between two of the most entertaining sides in the ISL, heavy with Spanish influence.
The Gaurs and the Blues jostled for space in the midfield as they tried to overload the midfield in an effort to control it.
Goa had the opening few minutes but Bengaluru was the first to break the stalemate with Edu Garcia’s header into the top left corner of the goal. The goal came in the 35th minute and was followed up with a few promising efforts by Semboi Haokip who was playing in the number nine position.
Haokip’s pace and intelligence off-the-ball same him make create some interesting opportunities but lack of experience for the 24-year-old hurt his chances.
Goa found themselves in a similar plight as injury to Brandon Fernandes caused Sergio Lobera to play Manvir Singh as the striker while Ferran Corominas was dragged down the hole behind him.
However, the Gaurs lacked Corominas’s guile in the final third and Singh didn’t have the same positional sense as the Corominas.
In a bid to extend their slender lead, Dimas Delgado, Edu Garcia and Toni Dovale’s laid siege to the Goa box which ultimately paid off as Delgado found his first goal in Bengaluru colours, killing the match.
Mumbai City FC 0-2 FC Pune City (Indian Super League)
Mumbai looked to dominate the match by keeping the majority of the ball and control of the midfield. However, that has seldom affected Pune this season, given their ability to rapidly transition into a counter.
Within the first 16 minutes, the Stallions created enough chances for Marcelinho to have a hat-trick but the Brazilian failed to find the goal in each of those chances.
Thankfully, Sarthak Golui’s ball into the box, saw Diego Carlos trying to guide the ball into the net, but ultimately took a deflection off Mumbai defender Raju Gaikwad to land at the back of the net.
The scoreline read 1-0 at the 19th minute and despite their numerous misses, Pune managed to take the lead. Mumbai attempted to equalise in the following minutes but Balwant Singh always seemed too late on the ball and could not capitalise on their chances.
The match trickled into the 83rd minute with only a single goal being scored and Mumbai looking determined to take at least a point from the match.
But the home side had to be disappointed as Marcelinho used Jonatan Lucca’s pass to thread it between Amrinder Singh’s leg, getting the decisive goal for the Stallions.
Bengaluru FC Lineup
With qualification secured Albert Roca is likely to field the same starting eleven in a bid to get some minutes for the less-played.
FC Pune City Lineup
Ashique Kuruniyan came back into the fold in the last match but did not feature in the game.
Ranko Popovic might start a different lineup featuring both Emiliano Alfaro and Marcelinho considering the importance of the next game.
Key Battle: Edu Garcia (Bengaluru FC) vs Marcelinho (FC Pune City)
Bengaluru FC and FC Pune City are the two most consistent performers in the league this season.
Despite FC Goa’s superior attacking threat, their lack of consistency at the back has hurt their chances this season, while these two teams have had their defence step-up at crucial junctures. But that aside, both these teams have one factor in common which has revitalised their bid for the title.
They both have a talisman playmaker. While the Blues will count on Edu Garcia to pitch in which his perfect free-kicks and delightful through-balls, the Stallions will have Marcelinho to link up with Emiliano Alfaro and propel the attack.
Garcia currently sits third on the list of the playmakers with five assists in 14 games while the Brazilian boasts of two more in only 13 games.
Defence will be the key
The last time these two teams faced each other, Ranko Popovic’s men were beaten convincingly by a 3-1 margin. The difference between these two teams was the home side being reduced to ten men after Baljit Sahni was sent off for a foul in the Pune box.
Until that point, Pune was leading with a goal but constructed a rapid comeback after Sahni’s send-off. The Blues could not manage Alfaro and Diego Carlos darting runs during the counter-attack and Jonatan Lucca and Marcos Tebar were quick to expose the space between the defenders.
But given the Blues’ current form, a rerun is unlikely. Though, history will suggest that the Blues have always had a tough time handling pacy wingers, case in point, the match against ATK.
If they manage to stave off Pune’s advances and control the midfield, they’ll be able to cruise through the match or otherwise risk hampering the team confidence with an untimely loss.
Prediction: Bengaluru FC 1-2 FC Pune City
Bengaluru often seems hapless when defending against fast counter-attacking teams and there are few better than Pune in the league. It will be a tough contest but the Stallions might emerge as the winners.