ISL 2018-19: Unbeaten record to preserve, Bengaluru FC raring to right some wrongs
11 games. 27 points. Sitting pretty at the top of the Indian Super League table. All that, despite having their talismanic hitman missing for six of the 11 games.
If Bengaluru FC had a pre-written script for how the first part of their ISL season should go, then it can't have been too much different from what transpired on the pitch for the Blues.
In a season that began with excitement and doubt in equal measure, the doubt has been thrown out of the window. The doubt may have been justified, though.
Although they had continuity after Albert Roca decided not to extend his contract at the helm, Bengaluru took a massive gamble in appointing Carles Cuadrat as their head coach.
Despite him having worked with Roca for an extended period of time, and having worked under Frank Rijkaard, there was scepticism about Cuadrat's appointment. After all, he had absolutely no prior experience as a head coach to fall back on.
Could he handle the pressure of being the no.1? The boss? Well, if his first 11 ISL games are any indication, he's had no problem. He's loving it, fist-pumping his way to wins.
And oh, he has his own moniker from the West Block Blues. Cuadrat Time, anybody?
Can Bengaluru keep it up in the second half of their campaign, then? Despite their record so far not being blemished by a loss, there were some chinks in the armour that were exposed towards the end of the first phase of the ISL.
Particular trouble seemed to come against sides that were pacy and direct on the counter-attack. This was hugely evident in the games against Delhi Dynamos, Mumbai City FC and NorthEast United FC.
Even in the game against FC Pune City, the Stallions' lone goal was scored after they sprung quickly on the break from a Bengaluru corner.
Against Delhi, if only Lallianzuala Chhangte or Andrija Kaludjerovic could have finished off the chances they had, it would have been a very different story on Sunil Chhetri's 150th appearance for the club, which the Blues eventually won 1-0 thanks to a late deflected strike from Udanta Singh.
They got out of jail in Guwahati against NorthEast, when an injury-time moment of brilliance from Chencho Gyeltshen rescued a point.
Modou Sougou and Arnold Issoko ran rings around the Bengaluru defenders, Albert Serran in particular. If Balwant Singh had taken his chances, then ATK might have left the Kanteerava with a point too, if not all three.
But maybe, it is good for Bengaluru that their imperfections have been exposed for all to see. At least, in theory, it could prove useful. Cuadrat and the players - minus Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu - have been putting in the hard yards since the 8th of January, when they reassembled in Bengaluru after the Christmas break.
Cuadrat and his assistant Gerard Zaragoza, who by Zaragoza's own admission, like to control everything on the pitch, would not have let that weakness to the quick counter-attack slip their eyes. So, one can be sure that Bengaluru would have something up their sleeve to counter-act their susceptibility to the counter-attack.
Counter the counter, eh? Not quite Gegenpressing, though.
Another humongous boost for Cuadrat and Zaragoza will come in the form of the return of their hitman from Venezuela. During his time at Bengaluru, when he's not been dropping subliminal hints about a potential move away from the club, Miku has been nothing short of sensational.
He brings so many additional dimensions to this Bengaluru side, it really is a credit to the rest of the squad for managing to remain unbeaten even in his absence.
When Miku is playing, he is a nightmare to deal with. He is a nightmare because of the plethora of different things he is able to do within the game.
As Mailson Alves and Chennaiyin FC found out in the opening game of their season, he can play on the shoulder of the last defender and unleash unstoppable shots into the net. As FC Pune City found out at the Balewadi, he can drop deep and wreak havoc by just creating that space for Chhetri and Udanta to run into.
As many an ISL defender has found out, he is near impossible to shake off the ball. Strong, nimble-footed and with a decent turn of pace, Miku really is a shining star in this Bengaluru side.
The break also did more good for Bengaluru in giving their other injured players some much-needed rest and time to recover. Both Nishu Kumar and Rino Anto picked up injuries in the game against ATK. Serran missed a game with a groin problem, Erik Paartalu and Dimas Delgado have had their share of injury problems too.
Now, with a fully fit squad to choose from, and the knowledge that there is a glaring weakness in their armour that could be exploited, it's up to Cuadrat to play his cards wisely.
Whether they'll go unbeaten through the season is something that remains to be seen, but if they do end up with the piece of silverware that came so close but eluded them on home turf last March, Cuadrat will not care about the aesthetics.
At Bengaluru so far, he has always put efficiency over beauty. That will continue to be the theme for Bengaluru FC in the second phase of the season.
Don't blame anyone for not telling you that on the day of the final, Bengaluru will be pumping its fists in harmony with their manager.