Both teams will be keen to make a winning start to the new campaign.
The 2022-23 Indian Super League kicks off on Friday, with last season’s runners-up Kerala Blasters facing East Bengal. It’ll mark the return of fans for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the Blasters, it’ll be a case of giving back to their ever-faithful fans and helping give them some joy. But, for East Bengal, it’ll be all about spoiling the hosts’ party. With both sides vying for the title this season and having the intentions of exceeding expectations, this should be a highly-entertaining clash.
It was a case of ‘so close, yet so far’ for Kerala Blasters last season. After having a fairy-tale run to the finals, they suffered a crushing defeat to Hyderabad FC at the very last hurdle. This time, Ivan Vukomanovic’s side will attempt to finish the job from last season.
They’ve undergone a change in squad, with the likes of Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Enes Sipovic and Alvaro Vazquez all moving on. But, the Blasters have recruited smartly and built up a very competitive squad for the season.
Now they have to prove that they are no ‘one-season wonder’ under Vukomanovic. The Blasters will be under pressure to win the opener, as it is at home and against a newly-built squad like East Bengal’s. A win is expected, but they have to be careful knowing that losing or dropping points can be an early momentum dropper that can derail their entire campaign.
With new investors on board, East Bengal are hoping to change their fate in this edition of the ISL. So far, it’s been a disappointing ride for the Red & Gold Brigade, who have finished in the bottom half of the table in the past two seasons.
But, they’ll hope that their first ISL season in front of fans can mark as a new dawn for them. With ex-India manager Stephen Constantine on board, they finally seem to have a balanced and competitive squad.
It’s now time for them to break free of the curse of the bottom places. While they might not be favoured to win this, the opener against Kerala Blasters is crucial for Constantine’s side. A win can make a real statement that they’re no more the ‘weak side’. A draw or a crushing loss can again result in pressure to creep in and supporters start questioning the project again.
Sahal Abdul Samad has returned to Kerala Blasters training session in time for their ISL opener. He suffered an injury in India’s loss to Vietnam, but appears to have recovered and could feature in the opening game. Currently, the side has no injury concerns.
East Bengal too, have a fully fit squad as they hope to kickstart their season with a bang.
Head to Head
Kerala Blasters and East Bengal have met four times in the ISL so far, with the former winning once and the other games ending as draws.
Man to Watch
Adrian Luna (Kerala Blasters)
It might be a new season, but Kerala Blasters fans should be delighted to see Adrian Luna still at the club. The Uruguayan played a heavily influential role in taking them to the finals last season. He scored six goals and provided seven assists, being among the best players in the league.
But now, with some of his foreign attacking partners gone, some are questioning whether Luna can adapt to the change. However, the 30-year-old proved himself as a hard-working, creative player last season. He’ll probably revel in taking control of games and stitch together chances for his side. The visitors have to be very careful in approaching Luna, because if he’s left unmarked, he can run riot.
Cleiton Silva (East Bengal)
East Bengal decided to go with the policy of signing foreign players with experience of playing in the ISL. The acquisition of Cleiton Silva was a really smart one, knowing how he has been a storm in the league. In 37 ISL appearances so far, the Brazilian has scored 17 goals and registered nine assists. Cleiton has a smell for the goal and is a menace in the final third.
His movement, speed and finishing ability should make him a crucial player for the Red & Gold Brigade. Cleiton had an impressive Durand Cup campaign, scoring two goals and providing an assist in three appearances. He’ll hope to bring that form into the ISL and delight the East Bengal fans with some majestic attacking work.
Did You Know?
- Stephen Constantine will make his debut at the domestic level in Indian football when he coaches his first ISL match. He’s well remembered as the India national team manager, having two separate stints.
- Dimitrios Diamantakos has won the Greece Super League – the first division in Greece – during his time at Olympiacos.
- Ivan Gonzalez is a graduate of Real Madrid’s academy and has even played for Real Madrid C from 2008-2012.
- Kerala Blasters were on a 10 match unbeaten run last season and even made it to the pole position during that stint.
- East Bengal registered a win after 227 days in September during their Durand Cup campaign against Mumbai City.
The match between Kerala Basters and East Bengal will take place at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi, on October 7. The kick-off time is at 7:30 pm IST. The match will be telecasted live on the Star Sports Network. Disney+HotStar and JioTV will also stream the match.