Bengaluru and Chennaiyin, who occupied the top two positions in the league stage, will face off in the final of the ISL tonight, with an AFC Cup spot at stake. Here’s how the two teams stack up for the big match
BFC aim for five in five
Five years ago, Bengaluru FC made history by winning the I-League title in their debut season. If they beat Chennaiyin on Saturday, they’ll become the only team to win both I-League and ISL titles in their first season. More than that, it would also ensure their record of winning a title every season remains intact. Bengaluru have won a major trophy in all previous season. They won the I-League in 2013-14 and 2015-16, Federation Cup in 2014-15 and 2016-17. Apart from this, they have reached the AFC Cup final once. Chennaiyin were one of the two teams that defeated them at home this season and were the only team to score more than one goal at Bengaluru’s home. But the Blues will take heart going into this tie from the fact that they were the last team to beat Chennaiyin this season.
Battle of the ‘keepers
It was abundantly clear at the start of the season that goalkeeping would be one of the key factors in deciding the ultimate champion. So poor was the quality that most teams paid price for it and unsurprisingly, the two teams with best goalkeepers have made it to the final. Bengluru’s Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Chennaiyin’s Karanjit Singh have eight clean sheets each. After a shaky start, Karanjit has come back well to keep three cleansheets in his last five games. On the other hand, Sandhu has grown with each passing game. He has two cleansheets in the last four games and is on top of the Golden Glove table, having conceded least number of goals this season (17). With the strikers in top form, how the goalkeepers fare will be crucial in determining the champion.
It’s not just the goalkeepers, the final will also see India’s top two strikers – Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua – go head-to-head against each other. Chhetri has scored 13 goals this season – most by an Indian – while Jeje is the second-best with nine. Both players were crucial to their team’s success in the semifinal. Chhetri scored a hat-trick in the second leg of the semifinal against Pune City, making him the only player to score a hat-trick in ISL playoffs, while Jeje scored twice in Chennaiyin’s win over Goa. However, Chhetri’s partnership with Miku might prove to be decisive. They duo has scored 27 out of the 35 goals scored by Bengaluru this season.
La Liga connection
The ISL final won’t be the first time some of the foreign players will face each other. They have been pitted against each other when they were plying trade in La Liga in the last few years. For instance, Bengaluru striker Miku and Chennaiyin’s Jaime Gavilan were part of the Getafe squad for four seasons – from 2009/2010 to 2012/13. When Gavilan was with Getafe, he played against Bengaluru’s Dimas Delgado in the 2008-09 season. Delgado was with Numancia that season. Bengaluru midfielder Toni Dovale, a former Celta Vigo player, has played against Chennaiyin’s Henrique Sereno when he was with Real Valladolid in 2012/13 season.