Can Sandesh Jhingan inspire a win help his team sail ahead from the likes of Jamshedpur and Goa?
Kerala Blasters will face the stern test of getting the better of Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru, on Thursday in a bid to make the Hero Indian Super League playoff places.
Nothing less than a win will do for the Yellow Army, althogh that may not be enough with Jamshedpur FC and FC Goa breathing down their neck. But they have to win and wait for the other results to go their way. Kerala Blasters are placed fifth at the moment with 25 points from 17 matches. They can reach a maximum of 28 and hope that Jamshedpur FC (26 points) and FC Goa (24 points with a match in hand) don’t move ahead. Hosts Bengaluru have already confirmed their place in the semifinals and will play for momentum ahead of the knockout stages.
“We are in a difficult situation and at the mercy of Jamshedpur and Goa. But we will do everything to win and we are unbeaten,” Blasters coach David James said.
The former England goalkeeper also sounded frustrated with the two draws in their five-match unbeaten run, saying that it would have been better if they had lost a game and won the other.
He also has the selection headache of deciding which position Dimitar Berbatov will play, if he gets the nod.
James erred on the side of caution – saying that “even a 1-0 win will do” – suggesting that the match may not see the Blasters come out all guns blazing. He singled out goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and captain Sunil Chhetri as two of Bengaluru’s biggest threats.
Albert Roca’s Bengaluru FC are eight points clear of second-placed FC Pune City and the most consistent team in the league. They’ve won six of the last seven games.
“It’s the last game of the league but we need to keep winning because that is important. We want to be strong going into the playoffs and there is only one way to do that – to do our job as good as possible,” he said.
Bengaluru and Kerala Blasters have an edgy rivalry and both managers said they expected the fans to not cross the limits during banter.
“The rivalry is good for Indian football and the fans should enjoy it in the proper way,” Roca said.
Bengaluru FC 1 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC
Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
Bengaluru’s captain has been in scintillating form this season. He has carved open opposition defences at will and has been clinical in front of goal. He is the first Indian to have bagged 10 goals in a single season in the history of Hero ISL. With a couple of assists as well, he will look to influence his side to another win to keep the momentum on track.
Jackichand Singh (Kerala Blasters FC)
The winger has been an effective player on the flanks for Kerala. His pace and quick feet have outfoxed many an opposition and he provides plenty of crosses in each game. Not shy of surging forward and taking on the goal, Jackichand has two goals and three assists to his name and will have to fire all cylinders against a threatening Bengaluru.
Albert Roca will probably go for a 4-1-4-1 formation, which relies heavily on their midfield and flanks for proper service to the striker.
Goalkeeper: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Defenders: Harmanjot Khabra, Rahul Bheke, Boithang Haokip, Subhasish Bose
Midfielders: Toni Dovale, Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu, Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh
Bengaluru head coach on his team’s current mentality: “It is the last game of the season and we would just like to win, and have the same mentality that we have maintained throughout the season. We will have to be strong because we know how difficult the playoffs can be. Tomorrow is our last game, so we will give our best. I expect a difficult game tomorrow.”
Kerala Blasters FC
David James is likely to use a regular 4-4-2 formation as the Blasters look for a balance between attack and defence.
Goalkeeper: Subhasish Roy
Defenders: Lalruatthara, Wes Brown, Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Rino Anto
Midfielders: Courage Pekuson, Dimitar Berbatov, Milan Singh, Jackichand Singh
Forwards: Gudjon Baldvinsson, CK Vineeth
Kerala head coach on his team’s approach to the match: “We only need one goal. A 1 – 0 will do and I don’t care who scores. We have a full-strength squad. That means every player is available for selection and it’s down to how the squad plays. We are playing a different opposition in Bengaluru. That is why they are so far apart in the league. So, the team selection would be based on how to nullify Bengaluru’s strength.”
- Bengaluru have won the most number of matches (12) while Kerala have drawn the most (7) this season.
- Both teams have the least number of losses this season (4).
Kerala Blasters FC 1 – 3 Bengaluru FC (31st December 2017 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi).
Form Guide (Last five matches)
Bengaluru FC: W D W W W
Kerala Blasters FC: D W D W W