There was a moment early in Bengaluru FC's match against FC Pune City on Thursday that resembled BFC on the road in their last I-League season under coach Albert Roca.
Sunil Chhetri worked his way around Pune goalkeeper Vishal Kaith and calmly slotted the ball into the net, but got pulled up with a yellow card after the referee's assistant deemed it to have come off his arm and not his shoulders as the television replays suggested.
Not long after, Pune converted their first shot at the BFC net into a goal, Adil Khan scoring a rare successive goal with a header. Pune, at home, were ahead despite allowing BFC to hold the ball for long periods. Roca's older team might have crumbled under the pressure, and salvaged a point at best.
This is not Roca's old I-League team, though.
The attack has more teeth
The single biggest difference this season has been Venezuelan striker Miku. All of last season, BFC suffered from their inability to convert meaningful possession into clear-cut scoring chances, but that has been consigned to history by Miku.
The greatest lesson to learn for young Indian forwards watching him is the composure that he shows when in sight of goal -- like he did when hauling BFC back to a good fight with 10 players against FC Goa, though they lost 4-3, and then again in Pune. Miku tends to delay his goalbound shot till the last second, and invariably passes it into the net. Probably why he has only had 10 shots on goal this season, and already converted those into six goals.
Good bench strength
This was evident on Thursday, too, especially when Pune went down to 10 men with Baljit Sahni earning a second yellow card. Roca replaced Juanan in defence with attacking midfielder Toni Dovale and brought on Edu Garcia, the midfielder who impressed the most in their last home game against Delhi Dynamos in November, to replace Erik Paartalu.
With Pune packing their defence even before the red card, it made sense to bring on two ball-playing players, and it was then that BFC began cutting the Pune defence open. Miku converted both the chances that resulted, and in the end it was fitting that Chhetri got a goal in injury time, given how unlucky he had been in the first half.
Defence still needs strengthening
To be fair, BFC did have some wobbles in defence, especially with left-back Subashish Bose missing the flight of a few long balls and allowing Pune to push in behind him. The home side were strangely unwilling to commit more players forward, but this defensive chink would have been picked up by opposition teams.
Nonetheless, BFC began the I-League last season with three home wins and then had their campaign derailed when they struggled on the road. This ISL began with two home wins, and then showed signs of unravelling when they were beaten by Goa. They have since lodged two away wins in Guwahati and Pune, and will return to take on Chennaiyin on Sunday with their confidence at a high.
They occupy the top of the table, and barring a huge win for Goa away to Delhi on Saturday, will go into their next game defending that deserved position.