Both teams are struggling in the bottom half of the table.
Kerala Blasters FC welcome Delhi Dynamos FC home at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Saturday in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18. The two-time finalists have suffered back-to-back defeats, and are in a situation where they have to win all of their remaining fixtures to get a chance of grabbing a playoff berth. However, they will be buoyed by the fact that they secured a solid 3-1 victory over the Lions when the teams met earlier this season.
The host’s head-coach David James was present during the pre-match press conference with the media and started off by underlining the importance of winning the rest of their fixtures. “Obviously, this is not a position we wanted to be in,” admitted the Englishman. “I have been watching games since our last match, hoping that they would all be draws or wins for the teams below us so that we would have a chance to catch the ones above us. But, it’s simple. We have six games and we have to win all six. Even that might not be enough.”
Kerala recently announced the signing of Iceland international Gudjon Baldvinsson and James was effusive when speaking of the 31-year-old. “We have singed Goody (Gudjon) from Iceland, on loan from Stjarnan,” he revealed. “After the loss of Mark (Sifneos), it was important that we got a striker in. Goody is not ready when it comes to the acclimatization that he had to make on coming from Iceland to India; not only in terms of the timeline but also the temperature which is different. But he gives us a different option going forward. He’s a very accomplished player, so it was important we got him.”
The 47-year-old, however, did share some good news regarding Dimitar Berbatov. “In the case of Berbs (Berbatov), he was out on the grass training with the football today,” he informed. “With the plan of winning all the six remaining games, I need all my players to be available now for the entire 90 minutes. What I did not want was putting Berbs in a position where I was going to rush him into playing games and possibly breaking down again. So, everyone is delighted with the way he is progressing. But whether or not he will be ready for tomorrow, you’ll have to wait for the team news.”
The former Liverpool custodian also made it clear that he was not happy with the set of fixtures his team had to play, but that at the same time, they were bracing themselves for the challenge. “I did a quick scan of the fixture list after the last match and I don’t think any club has the four-game run that we have,” he stated. “We had three games on the road, including the trip to Jamshedpur, which was particularly difficult. I think there are teams in the league that have had at least four days between every game, which has made it slightly easy for them.”
“But ultimately, we have to deal with what we have to deal with. I have a group of players, looking at whom, it’s difficult to imagine a position where we are in. But we’ll get on with it. The task becomes very clear when you need to win all games. But that’s what you like about football: having a challenge,” he concluded.
Delhi’s head coach Miguel Angel Portugal spoke to the media in the pre-match press conference, where he began by mentioning that a win was necessary for both the teams. “I think the new head coach (Kerala’s David James) has changed the mentality of the team,” Portugal inferred. “I feel the match against Kerala is important for them and for us because we both want to win.”
The 62-year-old mentioned how he expects Kerala’s gameplay to be like against them. “For us, it’s our responsibility to mark well because Kerala plays long balls,” he said. “They know that is our problem, and that will be Kerala’s philosophy against us.”
He also explained what his team’s weaknesses were. “We train every day for improving,” Portugal shared. “Corners are our problems. When we play football on the ground, we play very well and play with quality. But, our problem is individual duels”
When asked if he foresees any possibility of the Lions making it to the playoffs, the Spaniard replied, “I am not thinking about any possibility. I am only thinking about winning against Kerala tomorrow. For us, our objective is to take it game by game and win them. And now, our next game is against Kerala and our aim is to win against them.”
Before leaving, he informed the media about the injuries in the squad and the players who would miss Saturday’s fixture. “We have five-six players who are out with injury,” he revealed. They are Vinit (Rai), (Jeroen) Lumu, Rowilson (Rodrigues), Edu (Moya), (Xabier) Iruetaguena and Nandha (Nandhakumar Sekar).