Both the siders are looking forward to a coming back to winning ways after their dismal set of performances in the respective last games.

The appointment of David James as the head coach at the turn of the year, brought a fresh resurgence to Kerala Blasters in the Hero Indian Super League. The former England goalkeeper oversaw two wins and a draw in his first three games in charge but after having suffered two consecutive defeats in their last two games against Jamshedpur FC and FC Goa, the pressure is back on the ‘Yellow Army’ and more so on the coach who replaced former Manchester United A team Dutch coach Rene Meulensteen. 

The Blasters are currently seventh in the league standings with 14 points from their 12 games, and desperately need a win against Delhi Dynamos when the two sides meet at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Saturday to keep their hopes of making it to the top four places alive. 

“Obviously, it’s not a position we wanted to be in at the start of the season. We have been watching games and hoping there are wins for the teams below us so that it gives us a chance to catch up with teams above us on the table.  But it’s simple, we have got six games in hand, we plan to win all of them. But that still might not be enough,” James told reporters at the pre-match press conference.

To strengthen their chances, Kerala Blasters have also signed Icelandic striker Gudjon Baldvinsson to replace Dutch striker Mark Sifneos, who was released from the club earlier this week. “With the loss of Mark (Sifineos) to injury, Gudjon is someone who gives a different option going forward. He is an accomplished player in Iceland,” James said.

The Kerala Blasters coach also hinted that the club may sign few more players before the January transfer window closes. “With the transfer window still open, there is a chance to bring in few more players to replace some of the injured players in the current team. The work is not quite finished,” he added.

For Delhi Dynamos, who have been languishing at the bottom of the ISL points table, a place in the top four may be out of reach already but they still have a lot to play for. “For us, there is not much chance of making it to the top four now,” Delhi Dynamos head coach, Miguel Angel Portugal conceded at the pre-match pre-conference. But the Spanish tactician added that his side will want to win the remaining games to finish the season on a high. 

And for the game against Kerala, there will be added determination in his side after having suffered a 3:1 loss to them at home in the first leg played earlier in the month. Talking about Kerala Portugal said, “There mentality has changed with the appointment of a new coach. It’s an important game for both of us.” 

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Head to head

Kerala Blasters FC 3 – 3 Delhi Dynamos FC (3 draws)

Key Players

Courage Pekuson (Kerala Blasters)

The Ghanaian has been a powerhouse in the midfield for Kerala. His pacey runs and clinical passing have always kept the opposition defence on their toes. A strong player, he can hold off play well and surges forward frequently, creating openings in abundance. He has a goal and four assists to his name this season and will be looking to be his usual influential self in a crucial tie.

Kalu Uche (Delhi Dynamos FC)

The Nigerian had a slow start to the season and was sidelined due to injury for a few games, but he has been a key figure in the attack line for the Lions. A player with great strength and possessing good poaching instinct, Uche has a knack for being at the right place at the right time, while also being clinical with his finishing. He has netted four times already and has also bagged an assist. He will look to inspire and lead his team to a win in a tough away fixture.

Probable Lineups

Kerala Blasters FC

David James will probably use a regular 4-4-2 formation to provide balance in the gameplay.

Goalkeeper: Subhasish Roy

Defenders: Lalruatthara, Wes Brown, Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Sandesh Jhingan

Midfielders: Courage Pekuson, Keziron Kizito, Milan Singh, Jackichand Singh

Forwards: CK Vineeth, Iain Hume 

Kerala’s gaffer on how he looks forward to the season: “I have been watching all the 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.”

Delhi Dynamos FC

Miguel Portugal may stick to his 4-2-3-1 formation, as Delhi look to be more clinical in the final third.

Goalkeeper:  Sukhdev Patil

Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Pratik Chowdhary, Gabriel Cichero, Munmun Lugun

Midfielders: Matias Mirabaje, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Guyon Fernandez, Paulinho Dias, Romeo Fernandes

Forward: Kalu Uche

The visiting head coach on his team’s way forward: “Corners are our problems. When we play football on the ground, we play very well. We play with quality. But, our problem is also individual duels.”

Key Stats 

  • Delhi have won the least number of games this season (2) while Kerala have won the second-least (3)
  • Delhi are the only team so far to concede in excess of 20 goals (27)
  • Kerala have drawn the most number of matches so far this season (5) 

Last Encounter

Delhi Dynamos 1 – 3 Kerala Blasters FC (10th January 2018 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi)

Form Guide 

Kerala Blasters FC: L L W W D 

Delhi Dynamos FC: L W L D L