The hosts can do with a point, the Highlanders need a win to make it to the playoffs…
Kerala Blasters welcome NorthEast United to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday evening for a repeat of the opener of the third edition of the Indian Super League. With the final playoff qualification spot at stake – Delhi Dynamos, Mumbai City and Atletico de Kolkata have already qualified for the playoffs – both teams will look to offer their hundred percent.
Blasters reached the Final of the inaugural ISL tournament only to hand the title to Kolkata. Last season, they crashed out of the competition early. After a sloppy start, it appeared as though they would face an early exit this season as well. However, a timely revival now sees them just a single point away from a semi-final berth.
On the other hand, United have been the most inconsistent team in the division as they remain the team with second most wins and third most defeats. However, solidity at the back – they have the second best defensive record in the division – has seen them be as close as they are to the knockout stages now. A win in Kerala will see them reach the playoffs for the first time in the club’s history. However, they will need to be unfazed by the spectacular atmosphere Blasters fans will create.
Blasters have no serious injury concerns, but Steve Coppell will be without the services of influential Indian midfielder Mehtab Hossain, who is serving a one-game suspension. As for the Highlanders, Gustavo Lazzaretti, who limped off the pitch in the 3-3 draw with outgoing champions Chennaiyin, will sit out the game whilst Subrata Paul is also expected to be on the sidelines.
Neither side can claim to have dominated the other in the history of the competition, with each side claiming two wins each; one other fixture ended in a draw. However, Blasters boast a better goal-scoring record as they have averaged 1.4 goals as opposed to United’s measly 0.8.
The reverse fixture ended 1-0 in Guwahati as Katsumi Yusa scored the only goal for United. Revenge will be on the cards for Blasters this weekend as they are desperate to extend their ISL campaign beyond the Sunday’s crucial game.
Man to Watch
Kerala Blasters: CK Vineeth: It is safe to say Bengaluru FC attacker CK Vineeth singlehandedly inspired Blasters’ revival halfway into the season. Scoring four goals and providing one assist in four starts, he boasts the best goal or assists per game record in the division among players who have scored more than one goal. In front of the Yellow Sea, he will hope to not just add to his tally but also guide his side to glory.
NorthEast United: Nico Velez: Emiliano Alfaro is United’s top scorer and the division’s joint-second top-scorer. However, Nico Velez boasts the best goalscoring record in the recent games. Directly involved in four goals in four games, the 26-year-old Argentine striker will look to play a key role in undoing the stubborn Blasters defence.
Kerala Blasters: Stack; Jhingan, Hengbart, Hughes, Currais; Ahmed, Ndoye, Rafique; Rafi, Belfort, Vineeth
NorthEast United: Lima; Salam Ranjan, Alves, Zokora, Ghosh; Chhangte, Seityasen, N’dri, Borges, Velez; Alfaro
The match will be telecast live on Star Sports 2, Star Sports HD2, Star Sports 1, Star Sports HD1, Star Gold, Star Gold HD, Jalsha Movies, Jalsha Movies HD, and Hotstar. You can also follow Khel Now’s live text commentary.
Photo © ISL Media
Preview by Khel Now Correspondent from Chennai Praveen R. Paramasivam