The Southern rivals face each other for the third time this season.

Bengaluru FC will take on Kerala Blasters FC at Sree Kanteerava stadium in Bengaluru. This will be the first playoff match (single leg) and the winner progresses through to the semifinals which will be played in the home and away format.

Home team Bengaluru FC is on an eight-match unbeaten streak and finished the league stages in the fourth spot with 34 points. Kerala Blasters on the other hand have lost four out of the last five games and finished fifth with 31 points.

The pre-match press conference was attended by coach Simon Grayson and midfielder Rohit Kumar 

Takeaways from the previous meeting

Bengaluru FC defeated Kerala Blasters FC (1-0) in the last meeting at the Kanteerava stadium. Fiji international Roy Krishna scored the winning goal in a close contest.

Simon Grayson said, “I think we will be playing with confidence tomorrow. We have defeated stronger sides like ATK Mohun Bagan, Mumbai City, and FC Goa previously.

We also defeated Kerala Blasters in the last meeting which has been vital for what we are now, but this is a one-off game and the atmosphere will be electric with good fan presence.”

Knockouts advantage

Bengaluru FC had a good pre-season ahead of the ISL winning the Durand Cup. The home side won the knockout matches against Odisha, Hyderabad, and Mumbai to claim the title.

The head coach opined, “Hopefully, we will find out in the next 24-36 hours or so. I have been involved in many playoffs matches throughout my professional career both as a player and a coach.

I know how it is to lose or win a knockout game and hopefully, the experience from my side will help us along the way. Like always we need to respect the opposition, work hard, and play with good intensity. In a one-off game, we also need luck and fortune to go our way.”

Difference in approach

ISL has adopted a different approach this season. Until last season only four teams qualified for the playoffs but this season six teams can make it through to the playoffs.

Also, teams finishing in (3,4,5, and 6) positions in the league stages will play a single-leg knockout match and the winner makes it to the semifinals which will be in the usual format.

The 53-year-old iterated, “It’s slightly different in the two-legged games because the team is in a race for both legs if they win or lose. Tomorrow is different since it is a one-legged game. We have the advantage of home fans but Kerala Blasters do have a good fan presence. We need to play sensibly and not make any stupid mistakes which will have a major impact on the game.”

Surprised by Kerala Blasters’ tactics in their last game? 

Ivan Kalyuzhnyi with seven yellow cards has been suspended from the knockout game tomorrow. 

Simon Grayson said, “I was slightly surprised as it wasn’t an important match. I played Rohit for 60-odd minutes and we could have been in the same position but fortunately, he did not do anything stupid which protected himself and the team. They will have somebody to come in and make a difference and impact.”

Is Alan Costa back?

After rushing to Brazil for the birth of his child, Alan Costa is set to return to the matchday squad. Simon Grayson said,“He is flying back as we speak now so the likelihood is he will be in the squad by tomorrow,” he added.

Challenges ahead of the playoffs

Rohit Kumar has been an important member of the squad and has scored three goals in 15 matches played so far. The midfielder did not make it to the playing XI initially but slowly proved himself to become one of the consistent players.

Rohit Kumar said, “Everyone is really excited and motivated to play in the playoffs. I know this will be a difficult encounter to the one we played last month. We will focus more on ourselves and try to do the right things on the ground to get the desired result.”

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