Bengaluru: Carles Cuadrat’s Bengaluru FC will host ATK in their final game of 2018, as the first phase of the Indian Super League draws to a close for both sides at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Thursday. The Blues sit three points clear at the top of the table, albeit with the game in hand that they will play against Steve Coppell’s men.
At the time of writing this, ATK are in sixth position on the points table with 16 points and Cuadrat feels they will knock harder than always considering the fight for a play-off spot is getting too close for comfort. “ATK are a good team and it’s going to be a very tough game. They want to be in the play-offs and need the points which makes victory against us a priority. Their two lines of four in defence are very tough to break and there’s always the threat of Lanzarote in attack,” said Cuadrat on the eve of the fixture.
The game will also mark the return of defender John Johnson for the first time at the Fortress since leaving the Blues to join ATK at the start of the season. The Englishman spent five years with Bengaluru and will be critical to ATK’s efforts on the night.
While the defence hasn’t been a worry, Steve Coppell’s men have struggled in front of goal this season and the loss of Kalu Uche has had a bearing with the threat they pose going forward. Uruguayan Emiliano Alfaro who joined on loan from Pune has also been ruled out injured and Australian striker Eli Babalj has been drafted in, and has made two late appearances from the bench. ATK have scored in just two of the last five games and Coppell would want more bite from his men up front.
But while they’ve struggled to score, ATK haven’t given much joy to opposition strikers as well. They put behind the 2-1 defeat at home to Bengaluru to string together a run that has seen them unbeaten in five games now. In four of these, former BFC ’keeper Arindam Bhattacharya and his defence, have kept clean sheets while conceding just twice. Miku’s absence has been massive for the Blues but Cuadrat will take confidence from the fact that despite missing their talisman, a rejigged frontline has ensured that Bengaluru are the only team to have found the net in every game this season.
“At this stage last year, we had 18 points, and this time we have 24. I am happy with the performance of my players and those who have been coming off the bench for us. The break that’s coming up will give us time to get Miku fit again, and we’re all looking forward to that,” the Spaniard added.
The Blues will miss Harmanjot Khabra in midfield as he serves a one-game suspension for picking up his fourth yellow of the campaign against Mumbai on Sunday. It remains to be seen who Cuadrat will field in his absence, with Xisco’s inclusion requiring a further rejig to their frontline. The clash on Thursday will be Bengaluru’s third of the calendar year against ATK and Cuadrat will hope to head into the break with his unbeaten record intact.
The game kicks off at 7.30 pm and will be telecast on the STAR Sports network, HotStar, Jio TV and Colors Kannada Cinema.