Both sides come into the first southern derby of the season on the back of contrasting results in their respective last games.

The 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) is finally here and by now, each of the 11 teams participating in the competition have played at least once. ATK Mohun Bagan sit at the top of the table with two wins while SC East Bengal, who are yet to open their account are at the bottom. Kerala Blasters, meanwhile, have one point from two games – and up next, they will face Chennaiyin FC on Sunday.

Chennaiyin FC started their league campaign in style, winning against Jamshedpur FC in their only game so far. At the same time, the situation has not been equally good for Kerala Blasters, as they were beaten by ATK Mohun Bagan before being held to a draw by NorthEast United.

Without further ado, let’s take a look into a detailed preview for the game.

The Stakes

Chennaiyin FC

Before the season began, not many people were willing to include Chennaiyin FC in their probables’ list for the top four. But it all changed in their opener against Jamshedpur FC, where Anirudh Thapa rallied the Marina Machans to an inspiring win.

It goes without saying that CFC have made some terrific signings over the summer. With the likes of Nerijus Valskis, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Lucian Goian all leaving the club, it was very essential for them to find proper replacements to fill their boots. They now have a good attacking line-up in Esmael Goncalves and Jakub Sylvestr, while Enes Sipovic, Edwin Sydney and Eli Sabia will be a part of their defensive setup. They also retained Rafael Crivellaro, the midfielder who played an integral role in their run up to the final last season – and replaced the outgoing manager Owen Coyle with Csaba László.

Kerala Blasters will be the Marina Machans’ second opponent this ISL – and a second successive win will definitely make fans see them as one of the stronger sides of the competition. In fact, Chennaiyin FC were one of the most clinical sides from what we saw in the gameweek 1, and another win could take them to the top of the table.

Kerala Blasters

Kerala Blasters came into the season with a lot of promise, having executed a complete overhaul of the squad in the summer. They also made some key changes in the management – including the appointment of Kibu Vicuna as the replacement of Eelco Schattorie as the head coach.

Watch: Kibu Vicuna’s pre-match press conference

They also let go of over 15 players from the last season, including six of their foreign signings who were then replaced by new names. However, despite all of this, the Yellow Army are yet to find their first win in the 2020-21 season. They lost to ATK Mohun Bagan by a scoreline of 1-0 in the opening fixture, before NorthEast United forced a draw against them on Thursday.

Kerala Blasters raced to a 2-0 lead by half-time against the Highlanders, but the latter bounced back in the second half and netted twice to cancel their goal deficit. Speaking after the match, Vicuna himself admitted that his team did not play well in the second half.

And now, against Chennaiyin FC, Kerala Blasters need to win if they would like to increase their chances of reaching the play-offs. As of now, they are at the eighth place in the league standings, with just one point from their two matches so far.

Team News

Chennaiyin FC looked impressive in their game against Jamshedpur and it will not be a surprise if László makes minimal changes to that squad against Kerala Blasters. The clash between these two teams is regarded as one of the top games to watch out for every season, and he really would want his best team out there on the pitch on Sunday.

Crivellaro, Thapa, Chhangte, Sabia and Esmael seems to have ensured their place in the starting XI, while Deepak Tangri who was more-or-less a surprise pick for the first game is also likely to play once again.

Meanwhile, Kerala Blasters boss Vicuna dabbled with his team’s midfield and attack departments in the first two matches – and with Sahal Abdul Samad and Rahul KP still in doubt due to injury, the rotation could continue. Meanwhile, it does look like he has figured out his line-up in defence, where Nishu Kumar and Jessel Carneiro are likely to play alongside Bakary Kone and Costa Nhamoinesu just like in their last game.

Vicenta Gomez and Sergio Cidoncha are the two other players who seem to have solidified their place in the starting XI, apart from goalkeeper Albino Gomes as well.

Head to Head

Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters have faced each other 14 times so far in the ISL. Out of these games, the Yellow Army have won only three matches while the Marina Machans won six times. The remaining five games ended in draws.

Watch: Kerala Blasters 3-6 Chennaiyin FC highlights

In the 14 matches between both sides, Chennaiyin FC have scored a total of 22 goals, while Kerala Blasters ended up scoring 18. In the 2019-20 season, both teams played two games against each other, and both of them ended in wins for the Chennaiyin – with score lines of 3-1 and 3-6 on December 20 and February 1 respectively.

When both sides clash, there is a good chance for the game being a high-scoring affair, and based on the history between the teams and current form, one could say that CFC does have a better chance of winning Sunday’s match as well.

Men to Watch

Esmael Goncalves (Chennaiyin FC)

While Anirudh Thapa won the man-of-the-match award against Jamshedpur FC in the first game, Esmael Goncalves also played an influential role in the match. He was responsible for both goals scored by his team – with him scoring the second one himself.

Over their last two games, Kerala Blasters showed that their defence can get distracted at times, and clinical finishers can make use of that opportunity to try and score against them quickly. Roy Krishna did it in the opening game, while Kwesi Appiah and Idrissa Sylla did the same for NorthEast United in the previous  match. Isma’s clinical finishing abilities could prove vital for Chennaiyin FC against the Yellow Army on Sunday.

Sergio Cidoncha (Kerala Blasters)   

The former Jamshedpur FC star is perhaps the only Kerala Blasters star to have impressed in both their matches so far. He led and participated actively in the club’s attacking runs, and also scored one goal against NorthEast United. Had it not been for Gary Hooper’s poor finishing, Cido would have finished the game with an assist as well.

The Spanish midfielder is the only KBFC foreign recruit that has been retained from last season – and this time, he is also one of their captains. It goes on to show that the club’s management have placed volumes of trust in him, and so far, he has justified that with his performances.

Probable Line-ups

Chennaiyin FC (4-2-3-1)

Kaith (GK); Reagan, Sabia, Sipovic, Lalchhuanmawia; Thapa, Tangri; Goncalves, Crivellaro, Chhangte; Sylvestr.

Kerala Blasters (4-2-3-1)

Gomes (GK); Nishu, Kone, Nhamoinesu, Carneiro; Gomez, Jeakson; Cidoncha, Ritwik, Seityasen; Hooper.

ALSO READ: ISL: Five things that defined the first Kolkata Derby

Did You Know?

  • Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters were the two sides with the most players (8) taking at least a shot on MatchDay 1 of the ISL this season.
  • Anirudh Thapa’s 52nd second-goal against Jamshedpur FC was the fourth-fastest goal in the history of the ISL.
  • Kerala Blasters’ shot accuracy of 13.33% is the second lowest after Mumbai City FC (12.5%) in ISL 2020-21. They have managed only two shots on target out of the total 15 shots taken so far.

Telecast

The match between Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters is set to be telecast live on Star Sports 1 SD & HD, Star Sports 2 SD & HD (English), Star Sports Hindi 1 SD & HD, Star Sports 3, Star Gold 2 (Hindi), Asianet Plus (Malayalam), and Star Sports regional channels (in Bangla, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Marathi). It will also be streamed live on Disney+ Hotstar VIP and Jio TV.

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