Bengaluru FC start their second Indian Super League (ISL) campaign on Sunday at home against holders Chennaiyin FC after having an impressive debut season in the star-studded league.
Sunil Chhetri-led team were one of the most impressive sides last season as they had no issues making the transition from I-League. The Blues finished runners-up in the league after losing the final to Chennaiyin.
However, they left the chasing pack way behind in the league stages, clinching 40 points, eight clear of nearest-rivals Chennaiyin.
The club though continued their habit of winning silverware every season by clinching the Super League, shortly after their ISL final heartbreak.
What to expect from Bengaluru FC
Bengaluru have retained their core unit despite a few notable exclusions and have the firepower to launch another title bid. However, all eyes will be on Spanish tactician Carles Cuadrat, who has replaced Albert Roca.
Roca, who had been a fan favourite and an inspirational figure at Bengaluru over the years, was unable to extend his contract due to personal commitments. The club though trusted highly-rated set-piece expert Cuadrat, who had been Roca's assistant for quite some time.
There is a lot of pressure on Cuadrat, considering the ongoing season is the 49-year-old's first stint as the head coach of a football team.
"The management is always there with a plan. I think it made sense for them to keep the work they were doing with Albert and put it in my hands because in the end, it is the same philosophy, that matters," Cuadrat had said, hinting at the way he would operate at the club.
Having faced a stern test in his first competitive assignment — AFC Cup zonal semi-final (defeat to Turkmenistan side Altyn Asyr), Cuadrat would be hoping to get the league season underway on a high.
Anything less than a top-four finish — a spot in the semi-final will be considered a disappointment as Bengaluru have set such high standards ever since their inception.
Bengaluru FC full squad
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Soram Poirei Anganba, Aditya Patra
Defenders: Juanan Gonzalez, Rahul Bheke, Albert Serran, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Rino Anto, Nishu Kumar, Sairuat Kima, Asheer Akhtar, Gursimrat Singh Gill
Midfielders: Erik Paartalu, Kean Lewis, Dimas Delgado, Xisco Hernandez, Bidyananda Singh, Boithang Haokip, Altamash Sayed, Ajay Chhetri
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Nicolas Ladislao Fedor 'Miku', Udanta Singh, Chencho Gyeltshen, Thongkhosiem Haokip
Key players to watch out for
Despite letting go of their biggest player — John Johnson along with Subhasish Bose among others, Bengaluru FC have made some quality signings.
Former Mallorca midfielder Xisco Hernandez is expected to light up the season and is an able replacement for Edu Garcia. Meanwhile, Bengaluru have also snapped up last season's I-League star and Bhutanese Ronaldo Chencho Gyeltshen.
Rino Anto returns to Bengaluru after being away for a couple of seasons. The 30-year-old is likely to make the starting line-up.
IBTimes, India takes a look at three players who are crucial to Bengaluru FC's chances of going all the way.
Chhetri is undoubtedly the key to Bengaluru FC's success. Apart from his on-field exploits, his leadership skills and charisma is unparalleled in Indian football.
The 33-year-old, who netted 14 goals last season, is expected to lead the frontline this season along with club's top-scorer Miku.
Bengaluru's potent strike force, which includes the likes of Udanta Singh, Kean Lewis, and Chencho will also be eventually looking up to their skipper.
Gurpreet is another influential figure in the Bengaluru lineup, considering his European exposure. The India No. 1, who kept the cleanest sheets last season (8) will be eager to continue the good work in the new season.
With Johnson leaving the club, Gurpreet needs to get into the leadership group and guide the backline. There is more pressure on the 26-year-old as Bengaluru don't have a solid backup option for the goalkeeper role.
Xisco Hernandez joins an exciting midfield that also has foreign stars Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu.
Xisco, the 28-year-old, has been a journeyman, and can both as a winger and a second striker. His experience will be key as Bengaluru hope to intimidate oppositions with their top-quality frontline.