In Miku's absence, Bengaluru FC look to spread the goals out, but can they strike fear again? | ISL 2019-20
With ten days to go to the start of the new Indian Super League (ISL) season, Bengaluru FC are finetuning their preparations, in the knowledge that their priceless Venezuelan hitman has left for newer pastures, and that they have to somehow replace him.
Bengaluru FC don't just have to find the number of goals that Miku scored from elsewhere. They need someone who struck fear in opposition defences as the Venezuelan did. Few other strikers in the ISL had the ability to carry their team on their back quite as much as the Venezuelan did (Of course, FC Goa's Ferran Corominas is one of the few).
In the league phase of the ISL last season, Miku missed eight games after picking up an injury in the build-up to Bengaluru's clash against Goa at the Fatorda Stadium. In his absence, the Blues failed to score more than twice in any single game. In fact, they only scored 11 goals in the nine games that the Venezuelan didn't feature, even though one was the final league game in Jamshedpur, when almost the entire first XI was given the trip off.
In contrast, the Blues scored 23 times in the 12 games that the Venezuelan featured in, even scoring three in a game on three separate occasions. Sunil Chhetri, who scored nine goals last season, scored eight of them when Miku was on the pitch. The Venezuelan elevated those around him.
In fact, Chhetri broke an eight-game goal-drought about 27 minutes after Miku came on as a substitute in his comeback game against the Kerala Blasters in Bengaluru.
Two weeks after that game against Kerala Blasters, Bengaluru played at the Kanteerava against Goa, in the knowledge that a win would confirm top spot for a second successive season. Nishu Kumar was sent off in the first half, but what followed was a Kanteerava night for the ages, inspired by the hitman the West Block so loved. In 45 minutes, he made Carlos Pena and FC Goa tired of the sight of him.
So, now that's he left, having joined Cypriot club Omonoia FC in the summer, where do Bengaluru go? Where do the goals come from? Of course, they'll know there is a bank in Chhetri, but they need contributions from elsewhere too.
Udanta Singh needs to take his game to levels that we've not seen yet from the Manipuri winger. He's got all the potential in the world, he's got the best mentor - in Chhetri - that any young Indian attacker could hope to have, he's got a club that backs him to the absolute hilt. It's time Udanta turned potential to consistent match-winning performances.
In Ashique Kuruniyan, Chhetri and Udanta are joined by a partner-in-crime who has been integral to some thrilling attacking performances in the India blue, and Cuadrat will be hoping for a similar, instant impact from his new signings, who Bengaluru have paid the big bucks for.
The explosive pace of Kuruniyan and Udanta coupled with the guile and know-how of Chhetri is a combination made to thrill, especially when you consider what is behind them. In last season's climax, the absence of Erik Paartalu ensured Dimas Delgado was delegated more defensive duties, but when given the freedom, the Spaniard in Bengaluru's midfield is a work of art, seeing and playing passes that few other players see.
The creative department has also got a boost with the arrival of Raphael Augusto, and the return of fan-favourite Eugeneson Lyngdoh. In Bengaluru's possession-heavy system, these are players who should really thrive.
And we haven't even yet mentioned the man who will wear the number nine jersey. Spaniard Manuel Onwu has also been signed, and as the big foreign striker, there will be an onus on him to deliver the goals, but at this point, he is very much an unknown quantity. As we have seen in the ISL before, impressive goal-scoring records haven't necessarily translated to similar results in this league.
The presence of the explosive Indian front three gives Onwu the time to find his feet as well, and that might be much-needed, given that the Spaniard himself is recovering from an injury, and has played only a minor role in the Blues' two pre-season friendlies so far.
Bengaluru, though, will not be overly concerned over a missing Venezuelan. They will trust their recruitment with Kuruniyan and Augusto, trust some able deputies like Kean Lewis, back the young Edmund Lalrindika even, if need be.
It really is a delicious prospect, that Bengaluru attack, even without Miku. In truth, it could even shape the future of the Indian National Team, with its wingers. What's not to be excited about?