Both teams are chasing their maiden Indian Super League title.

Hyderabad FC are set to face three-time finalists Kerala Blasters in their maiden ISL final on Sunday (March 20). The stage is all set to host the biggest domestic football event in India with the arrival of the fans in the stadium

Manolo Marquez’s boys missed the playoffs last season and to overcome that he signed some seasoned campaigners in (Bart) Ogbeche and Juanan. Consequently, the Nizams were league leaders for a substantial period of time. Indeed, they were in the driving seat in the semi-finals against the mighty ATK Mohun Bagan. 

On the other hand, Ivan Vukomanovic has led Kerala Blasters to the final in his first season in India. The Blasters are eying their maiden silverware in the club’s history. They were tactically better against League Shield Winners Jamshedpur FC in the semi-finals. And we can expect a similar battle between the coaches when the ball starts rolling.

But eventually, what happens on the pitch will matter the most. Consequently, here are the three key battles to look out for as Hyderabad FC face Kerala Blasters in ISL 2021-22 final.

3. Mohammad Yasir Vs Lalthathanga ‘Puitea’ Khawlhring

Lalthathanga Khawlhring
Lalthathanga Khawlhring has guarded the midfield well for Kerala Blasters (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Hyderabad FC’s No. 10 is undoubtedly one of the most technically-gifted players in India and can cause problems for Kerala Blasters. He missed a major chunk of the season due to injury, but is now fit and hitting his stride well. With match-winning performances in the semi-finals and three-goal contributions in the last three games, the youngster is a serious threat for the Blasters.

The left-footed wonder-boy is all set to take on prominent midfielder Puitea on the pitch. Yasir has got finesse in playmaking with whooping numbers in his portfolio, despite playing only 13 games this season. He averages 6.8 accurate passes in the attacking third, with one defence exposing chipped pass every second game. 

Lalthathanga Khawlhring has been the best Indian defensive midfielder in the league. The Kerala Blasters destroyer will have the task of managing the creativity of Hyderabad FC’s No. 10. Puitea is also a brilliant progressor of the ball with quick passes and rarely loses possession or misplaces a pass in his own half. He wins 3.3 duels per game which gives him an edge over Yasir. But, he gets dribbled past once every game and it is something Yasir will look to exploit, as he completes 55 % of his dribbles.

2. Asish Rai/ Nim Dorjee Vs Adrian Luna

Nim Dorjee
Nim Dorjee has shifted in as a right-back in Asish Rai’s absence (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Everyone loves the football played by Manolo Marquez’s team and the coach has always praised the influence of his full-backs in it. Asish Rai caught the public’s eye last season and has established himself as the best modern-day right-back in India. Rai averages 1.1 key passes per game with 3.1 tackles and 2.2 clearances. The numbers show his completeness and he should be ready to take on Adrian Luna.

But injury and subsequently COVID-19 infection has somewhat hampered his season. Rai will have to prove his fitness to play in the ISL final. Nim Dorjee, who has been superb in the limited gametime he has managed, will take the right flank for Hyderabad FC against Kerala Blasters, in his unavailability. The Nizams have lost only one of the nine games Dorjee has played in, with the sole defeat coming against ATK Mohun Bagan in the playoffs.

Adrian Luna, on the other, is Kerala Blasters’ heartbeat. Almost everything Vukomanovic’s side does goes through the Uruguayan and he has directly contributed towards 13 of the 34 goals the Blasters have scored this season.

Luna again took control in the second leg against Jamshedpur FC with a stunner. The Uruguayan maestro needs no words to describe how big a threat he will pose in the game, his numbers speak for himself. With five screamers from outside the box, seven assists and 2.5 key passes every game, he has been the figurehead of his team. Keeping Adrian Luna quiet will surely give Hyderabad FC an upper hand over Kerala Blasters in the final.

1. Bartholomew Ogbeche Vs Hormipam Ruivah

Bartholomew Ogbeche
With 18 goals, Ogbeche is certain to win the ISL Golden Boot this season (Courtesy: ISL Media)

A huge part of the Blasters’ fans remembers Bartholomew Ogbeche for his heroics in a yellow shirt. Gone are the days when the Nigerian terrorized Indian Super League defences week-in and week-out for the Kerala-based club. The current Hyderabad FC striker has aged, but that hasn’t necessarily taken his goalscoring abilities away from him, even a bit.

Ogbeche has scored 18 goals in as many games and is enjoying his best season in India. He attempts 3.4 shots every game with 1.6 shots on target. The attacker scored six with his weaker left foot and four-headed goals, which proves his ruthlessness in front of goal.

Meanwhile, Ruviah Hormipam has been the find of the season for Ivan Vukomanovic and Kerala Blasters. The 21-year-old kept Jamshedpur’s Daniel Chima and Greg Stewart quiet like a veteran. In the nine games he’s started, Hormipam has clean-sheets in five. While making things tough for oppositions strikers, he is yet to be booked this season and has conceded just one penalty.

The youngster needs to be at his best throughout the game to reduce the threat from Ogbeche. The Nizams’ striker has experience by his side. This battle could potentially be the decider on the night as Hyderabad FC take on Kerala Blasters.

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