Chennai, February 8: Bengaluru FC mainstays Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh have been provided rest but the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) leaders will be confident they can get the victory that will take them to the play-offs.
Bengaluru FC are top of the table with 31 points from 14 matches and need another win to confirm their semifinal spot.
That can happen on Saturday, even if they are up against the might of defending champions and fierce rivals, Chennaiyin FC at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai.
The finalists of the 2017-18 season find themselves at opposite ends of the league table at this stage but there should be no love lost between the two sides when they meet on Saturday.
Bengaluru will be bolstered by the return of their prolific striker Miku. The Venezuelan could only make the bench against Kerala Blasters after his injury lay-off but should return to the starting XI against Chennaiyin, alongside new signing Luisma.
"With Miku, the stats in attack will be better. We are putting a lot of intensity in defence. At the beginning, we had some problems with Nishu (Kumar) and Rahul (Bheke) as they were adjusting to maintain the line. But now all four defenders are doing well. You can see the work that we have been putting in," said coach Carles Cuadrat.
Cuadrat's men were going full throttle at the top of the league before it paused for a break for the AFC Asian Cup.
However, after resumption, Bengaluru's momentum has been arrested slightly. The Blues tasted their maiden defeat of the season with a 0-1 loss to Mumbai City FC before eking out a 2-1 win over NorthEast United. They were then left to produce a second-half fightback to salvage a 2-2 draw against Kerala Blasters.
Chennaiyin, on the other hand, have been in freefall throughout the season with just one win to show for in their 14 matches so far.
What Gregory will want from his men in the remaining four games is to salvage some pride at the end of what has been a disastrous campaign. New signing CK Vineeth scored his first goal for the club in their defeat to Pune City and Gregory will be hoping the former Bengaluru FC forward can build on that.
"They (fans) expect victory against Bengaluru FC and it might give us and them some self-esteem. Our fans will take a win over Bengaluru as compensation. We want to pay our fans back for their patience," said the Englishman.
Chennaiyin have struggled in all areas of the pitch in the current campaign but it is in defence where their biggest vulnerabilities have surfaced.
"We have had lots of matches where we dominated possession and passing. But we never outscored the opposition except once. It has been frustrating for us. We have not been strong defensively and have conceded goals in matches we should not have and have missed lots of chances at the other end. We have fallen short in too many areas of the field," Gregory opined.
Bengaluru prevailed by a solitary Miku goal when the two teams met in the reverse fixture in September.
Can the Venezuelan striker do it again on Saturday or will the defending champions have the last laugh?
(Source: ISL Media)
Chennaiyin FC vs Bengaluru FC
Saturday, February 8
7.30 pm at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai
Live on Star Sports Network
Live on Hotstar