Both teams come into the game on the back of contrasting results in their opening outings.

The seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) is finally here and all teams with the exception of SC East Bengal have played at least one match so far. The first gameweek gave fans some nice surprises, with plenty more expected in the weeks to come. As far as the league is concerned, one of the clubs that are under constant scrutiny are Kerala Blasters and they will take on NorthEast United in their second game on Thursday evening.

Kerala Blasters came into the 2020-21 ISL with a lot of promise, but lost their opening fixture against ATK Mohun Bagan last week. Meanwhile, NorthEast United exceeded initial expectations by winning their first game against Mumbai City FC. The clash between both sides set to take place at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim, Goa can be expected to shed more light into the strategies, policies and plans of either team.

The Stakes

Kerala Blasters

WATCH: Kibu Vicuna’s pre-match press conference

For a club that started so well in the ISL – reaching two finals in the first three seasons – the recent history of Kerala Blasters is not even close to impressive. Hence, the club roped in Karolis Skinkys as the new Sporting Director and appointed Kibu Vicuna as the new head coach. They also parted ways with as many as 21 players, while 16 new ones joined. Only Sergio Cidoncha remains from last season’s list of foreigners and he has been joined by six new overseas stars.

Despite all this, the Kochi-based outfit lost their opening fixture against ATK Mohun Bagan, with Roy Krishna capitalizing on a defensive mistake to score the winning goal for the Mariners. However, the Blasters did show promise in a lot of key areas including defense, dribbling, maintaining possession and so on. Some added flair in their overall gameplay, together with better link-ups in both midfield and attack could make them a much more powerful side.

NorthEast United

WATCH: Gerard Nus’ pre match press conference

Prior to the start of the season, almost everyone had the opinion that the star-studded Mumbai City side led by the equally brilliant Sergio Lobera were the team to beat. By doing the very same thing in their opening match, NorthEast United have already emerged as one of the clubs to watch out for this season.

The discipline and patience that they displayed on the ball was impressive to say the least. The whole team played with balance and never looked distracted during the game. While most people’s eyes are totally on well-established coaches like Lobera, Antonio Habas, Vicuna and Owen Coyle, who have already proven their mettle in the country, it would be worthhile it to follow the work of the Highlanders’ 35-year-old tactician Gerard Nus with equal importance.

A second successive win will definitely banish the doubts from most people’s minds and it goes without saying that Nus and Co. will leave no stone unturned in its pursuit as they take on the team from the south.

Team News

Kerala Blasters’ coach Vicuna will have some obvious choices to make in terms of their starting XI and bench against NEUFC. However, it remains to be seen whether Nishu Kumar – who is not fully fit as per club sources – will get the green signal to take part in the game.

Another player who will not play the game for KBFC is Rahul KP, who is still recovering from an injury that he suffered prior to last week’s opening match. He returned to training last week itself and is recovering fairly well – but do not be surprised if the club rests him for one more match.

Meanwhile, NorthEast United looked well set in their game against Mumbai and it looks like Nus will field the same team against the Blasters. He has already made it clear that he doesn’t see them as easy opponents, which could imply that he really would want his best team out there on the pitch on Thursday.

Head-to-Head

WATCH: The last time NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters faced each other, the game ended in a goalless draw

Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United have faced each other 12 times so far. Out of these, Blasters have won five matches and the Highlanders three, with the remaining four games ending in draws.

In the 12 matches between both sides, KBFC have scored a total of 12 goals and NorthEast United seven. In the 2019-20 season, both teams played two games each other, and both matches ended in draws – by scorelines of 1-1 and 0-0 on on December 28 and February 7 respectively.

Man To Watch

Facundo Pereyra (Kerala Blasters)

Facundo Pereyra did not start for KBFC in the match against ATKMB. This could be due to a lack of match fitness following his late arrival in the ISL bio-bubble. In the coming weeks, the Argentine can be expected to feature in Vicuna’s starting XI. Last week’s match clearly proved that the team need someone to create chances in the final third and with Sahal Abdul Samad not rising to the occasion, he is likely to be replaced by Pereyra as the club’s first-choice No.10.

In the game against ATKMB, the likes of Nongdamba Naorem, Gary Hooper and Ritwik Das proved their ability to move into goalscoring positions despite facing a relatively tough defence in Sandesh Jhingan, Tiri and so on. Hence, an efficient No.10 could make all the difference for the club. With Pereyra himself displaying good form in the recent friendly against Mumbai City, it will not be a surprise if the 32-year-old pulls the strings in Blasters’ attacking moves.

Khassa Camara (NorthEast United)

Khassa Camara was the Man of the Match for NorthEast United in their opening match against Mumbai City and rightly so. The French-Mauritanian central midfielder was brilliant right from the first tackle and kept it that way throughout. He was seen leading his teammates and encouraging them to maintain discipline. He also drew the foul that resulted in Ahmed Jahouh getting sent off.

One can expect Camara to turn up with a similar role against Kerala Blasters, who are already struggling to find rhythm in midfield and attack. The midfielder will definitely look to control the flow of play for the Highlanders.

Probable Lineups

Kerala Blasters (4-2-3-1)

Gomes (GK); Nishu, Kone, Nhamoinesu, Carneiro; Gomez, Jeakson; Pereyra, Ritwik, Naorem; Hooper.

NorthEast United (4-4-2)

Chowdhury (GK); Mehta, Lambot, Fox, Gurjinder; Ninthoi, Lalengmawia, Camara, Machado; Lalrempuia, Appiah.

Did You Know?

  • Kerala Blasters are one of the two sides with the most players (8) taking at least a shot on MatchDay 1 of the ISL this season.
  • Kerala Blasters recorded 69.3% possession in the first-half against ATKMB last week.
  • NorthEast United maintained just 34.4% possession and played just 294 passes during their win against Mumbai City FC last week.

Telecast

The match between Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United 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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