Here we are, the playoffs, the time where league positions and form go out of the window and it just comes down to three games. Each team has to forget about their league performances and focus on just beating their opponents over two legs, in the semi-finals, and then one game, the final. Heading into it Bengaluru are favourites because of the way they dominated the league and finished top. Pune, technically go into it as the least favourites as they ended up 4th but anything could happen. Whatever the odds, the playoff matches will definitely be the most entertaining games of the season.
The first playoff game has, the underdogs, Pune City playing host to the favourites Bengaluru in the first of two legs. Pune have had a great season so far and were quite unfortunate to finish 4th on the last day. They could easily cause an upset against Bengaluru, especially if they manage to stop Bengaluru winning this first leg. The next coming weeks will be tough for Bengaluru, as they have a truckload of fixtures in the playoffs, Super Cup and their AFC Cup group stage games. It will be a real test for them, but they have a chance to do a treble and make history. Let’s get straight to the stats.
The hosts, Pune City, head into the game with a 4th place finish to their name. To be perfectly honest, not many fans expected Pune to finish 4th, they were looking at 2nd place and definitely not 4th place. They finished with the third highest goals total in the league, scoring a huge thirty goals. Their defensive record was one of the best as well, with them conceding twenty-one goals over the course of the season. Their form heading into the playoffs is pretty good, winning two, drawing two and only losing one of their previous five. They come into the game as underdogs, so it will be interesting to see if they can cause an upset and if they do, it’ll be another great underdog story.
The visitors, Bengaluru, head into the game finishing top of the table, by a staggering eight points. They were simply unstoppable, especially since 2018 began. They are currently twelve games unbeaten streak in all competitions and I am sure they will not want that to end anytime soon. They ended the league with a fantastic goalscoring record, managing thirty-five goals. Their defensive record was just as good only conceding sixteen goals over the course of the season. They enter the playoffs in near perfect form, winning four and drawing one of their previous five. After reading this, it is difficult to argue against Bengaluru breezing past Pune.
For the semi-finals, I am going to do this segment a little differently. I’ll include both their league games this season and compare them over two legs as if the results were in the semi-finals themselves.
The first time these two teams met in the league was back in December 2017 with the game ending in a 3-1 victory for Bengaluru. Chhetri and Miku, with two, got the goals for Bengaluru, whilst Adil Khan scored for Pune who had Baljit Singh sent off, early on in the second half.
The second time these two sides met was a few weeks ago, with the game ending in a 1-1 draw. It was an all-out game, with Pune taking the lead early on through a Golui Sarthak goal. It’s no surprise that I say Bengaluru equalised through Miku late on in the second half.
These two results in the league leaves Bengaluru with a 4-2 win on aggregate and I am sure the league leaders would take that again in the semi-finals. Pune will definitely want to improve and they will be hoping they can hold Bengaluru going into the second leg.
The Game Itself…
Many fans are expecting this to be an all-out war game, especially with the away goals rule being implemented. However, I don’t think it will be. I think both teams will be fairly cautious and not rush into anything that may leave them open at the back.
I expect Bengaluru to dictate the game and Pune to sit back and hit them on the counter but I feel, near the end of the game, it could become a scrappy game. Either way, it will definitely one not to miss.
Where do I start? During the playoffs, it will become increasingly harder to pick my Key Players because you should have the best teams, with the best players, competing against each other. Pune have a bundle of talent within their squad and most can cause some damage to Bengaluru. One player who can cause damage is Marcelinho, he is a great playmaker, who can often score a goal. Another is Pune’s top goalscorer, Alfaro. He can always pop up with a goal or two in any game and situation. Bengaluru need to keep their eye on him.
Bengaluru, obviously have some of the best players in the league right now. There is a reason they finished top of the league and finished top quite comfortably. Some would say that is down to the defensive partnership between Rahul Bheke, Juanan and John Johnson. They have been a brick wall for Bengaluru this season. However, we cannot overlook their attacking presence. They have one of the league’s top goalscorers in Miku and my Key Player and Indian legend Sunil Chhetri. He can just score, assist, defend and be a great character in and around the club. Having him on the pitch gives you an instant boost and advantage over your opponents.
With all this being said, I will simply leave you with this. As you can tell, I have rambled on a bit and that’s because I am really excited for my first ISL playoffs experience. If the English Championship playoffs are anything to go by, we are all certainly in for a treat. For my prediction, I think Bengaluru will come out on top and Pune cannot allow Bengaluru to come out with a score draw, now that the away goal rule has been introduced. Either way, this will be a brilliant match and a great way to kick off the playoffs.