Chennai, February 8: More than just bragging rights will be on offer as South Indian rivals Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC lock horns at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium here on Sunday.
The top-four race in the Hero Indian Super League is heating up and Chennaiyin FC can move within two points of fourth-placed Mumbai City FC with a win against their arch-rivals. The hosts will also want a measure of revenge after the 3-0 loss they suffered in the reverse fixture.
For Bengaluru FC, who are currently third on the table, the priority is the top spot with which comes a berth in the AFC Champions League. A win will see them rise to second on the table and within two points of leaders FC Goa. Anything less will see the Gaurs and ATK nose ahead in that race for the top spot.
Owen Coyle’s Chennaiyin are on a hot run of form currently. They are on a four-game winning streak and most recently defeated Kerala Blasters 6-3, with the likes of Nerijus Valskis, Rafael Crivellaro and Lallianzuala Chhangte impressing.
“To win, we need to play well offensively. But there are going to be individual battles all around. Sunil Chhetri and Deshorn Brown are all good players. Brown has played against my team in the ISL,” said Coyle.
Containing the Chennaiyin front-four will be a tough ask for the Bengaluru defence. They have been rejuvenated under Coyle and that is reflected in their output. Chennaiyin have scored 22 goals in eight matches under Coyle.
“It’s clear that there’s a new spirit in the Chennaiyin team since the new coach Owen Coyle came in. There’s more creativity in their side, and they are a team that scores a lot of goals and defends well,” said Bengaluru coach Carles Cuadrat.
“They are in a good dynamic. But as I’ve said about dynamics before, with every move you’re closer to the end of it. When you are scoring every week, there will be one day when you stop scoring and that’s normal,” he added.
Chennaiyin’s defence is yet to convince. Against a Bengaluru team in a high-stakes affair, that could be costly.
There’s also another concern for Chennaiyin, with midfield lynchpin Anirudh Thapa picking up a suspension for this game. His absence will be a blow, with Germanpreet Singh expected to return to the team instead.
Bengaluru will look towards their set-piece prowess to deliver them goals. A majority of their 19 goals in the league have stemmed from dead-ball situations. Dimas Delgado’s deliveries have proven deadly and so have the aerial ability of Erik Paartalu and Sunil Chhetri. And it is a something Coyle has factored in.
“We knew that we had to do better defensively. Bengaluru are a threat at set-plays. We will look at it. We don’t leave any stone unturned. Their deliveries are good and they have physical players and pace on the counter. They have options. We have to be ready for that challenge. It is a challenge we want to come on top of. If we do that, we get three very important points,” he said.
The Blues are coming off a 1-0 win over Hyderabad FC and will be confident of getting the better of Chennaiyin as well. Their defence, led by Juanan and Albert Serran, has been absolutely water-tight (only nine goals conceded) and will take some breaking down.
“We cannot afford to rotate against Chennaiyin. We’re fighting for a spot in the AFC Champions League and we need to go for the points on Sunday,” said Cuadrat.
The two teams have served up some high-intensity clashes in the past. Expect Sunday’s affair to be nothing less, given the stakes involved.