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I-League 2017: Minerva Punjab vs. Bengaluru FC Preview - Clunky champions in desperate need of a win against The Warriors

Goal.com logo Goal.com 04-03-2017

I-League new entrants Minerva Punjab know that they might have to face a wounded tiger when they host defending champions Bengaluru FC at the Guru Nanak stadium in Ludhiana on March 5, 2017, in a round 12 encounter of the I-League.

The last time these two teams squared off, Minerva were massive outsiders but yet managed to steal a draw, courtesy a Sandesh Jhingan own goal. The result was part of a seven-game winless streak that Bengaluru suddenly find themselves in the middle of. This run has all but obliterated the defending champions' title hopes and they languish in fifth position with just 13 points from 10 games. Albert Roca needs to get their act together and stop the rut.

The glaring issue that has troubled The Southern Eagles has been the lack of goals up front. Having opted to play a majority of games with Chhetri and Vineeth upfront, they lacked a cutting edge and failed to finish off the chances that have been created. But having signed Croatian striker Marjan Jugovic, Roca would be hoping that little problem has been addressed, though a bit belatedly.

The defence has also been a problem, often being caught out by pacy counters by opposition teams. In the last game, the defence just could not match up with East Bengal's fast breaks and physical strikers up front, collapsing quickly to eventually lose 3-1. It was a demoralising defeat and remains to be seen how they bounce back. But John Johnson is back from his suspension and fitness issues and is expected to slot into the starting lineup.

One bright spark for Bengaluru has been the form of Udanta Singh down the right wing. The 20-year-old is a constant threat with his speed and deliveries and it will be a huge challenge for the Minerva defence to handle him.

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The hosts, Minerva Punjab FC, see themselves in a position where a win on Sunday will help them leapfrog their opponents which should a huge boost for newcomers. After struggling in the early part of the campaign, The Warriors are starting to turn their season around. They are now unbeaten in five games, in which they have garnered nine points.

Their recent resurgence has been down to the scintillating form young forwards Anirudh Thapa and David Ngaihte have displayed, especially in the thrilling 4-5 win against Churchill Brothers.

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Kareem Nurain and Loveday Enyinnaya are expected to marshall the Minerva defence which has largely been solid, apart from the aforementioned nine-goal thriller.

Though Surinder Singh's side starts as underdogs again, the aura of invincibility that Bengaluru had around them has long gone and Minerva Punjab might not be averse to fancying a high-profile scalp on Sunday.

Kickoff is at 16:35 IST.

PREDICTED LINE-UPS:

TEAM NEWS:

MINERVA PUNJAB FC

Injured: None

Suspended: None

Doubtful: None

Key Player: David Ngaihte

BENGALURU FC

Injured: Rino Anto, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Gursimrat Singh Gill, Lalthuammawia Ralte

Suspended: None

Doubtful: None

Key Player: Sunil Chhetri

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