In-form NEROCA host defending champions Minerva Punjab
The Manipuri side are currently undefeated in their last three games in the league.
Title holders Minerva Punjab will find the going tough as Manipur based club-side NEROCA FC go into their 12th Hero I-League clash on December 23, 2018, as favourites, having registered wins in each of their last three games. The game at Imphal’s Khuman Lampak Stadium begins at 2 PM IST.
Minerva, on the other hand, suffered a loss at home against Mohun Bagan in their previous game and drew goalless against Chennai City before that, their goal-scoring woes refusing to go away.
NEROCA are at the third spot in the league standings with 14 points from eight games and have won four times so far. Minerva has played a game more and have a win less, placing them a lowly seventh with 12 points.
While NEROCA look a rejuvenated side since the return from injury of Japanese talisman Katsumi Yusa, Minerva’s Irish coach Paul Munster looks yet to settle on the right combination for the season.
The home team began their campaign in an uninspiring fashion picking up just two points from their first three games but have since won four of the next five. A win on Sunday will catapult them onto second.
Spanish coach Manuel Fraile has made some key decisions along the way, two of them being ensuring that the experienced Singham Subhash Singh and Lalit Thapa are back in the active mix and with the inspirational Yusa coming back, Nigerian striker Felix Chidi also seems to have got back his goal-scoring touch.
Coach Fraile said in his pre-game comments, “We must keep the momentum. We need to be steady too. Support of the fans, journalists have also played an important role. The important aspect is to look at the opponent also. From January, we will be playing more away matches. We will be playing with a tough team who are the champions. We are in a very good position now.”
Minerva have played about 24 players in their nine games so far and are yet to zero in on an ideal attacking partnership for William Opoku.
The Ghanaian has had to partner the likes of Manandeep, Sabeeth, Donatus Edafe, Alexandre Kouassi, Yu Kuboki, Nongdamba Naorem, Dilliram Sanyasi and Makan Winkle Chothe at various stages of the campaign, unlike last year when Chencho and Bali Gagandeep were mostly by his side.
With six goals scored so far and two of those six coming in a single match off the head of center-back Lancine Toure, it is clear than none of those attacking combinations have worked for Munster so far.
Said Munster in the pre-game presser, “Our first few matches have been relevant as they were home games but this is an away game. We are expecting better performances and the creation of more opportunities to score a goal. Preparation has been really tight as we look forward to the game. We have been looking towards the NEROCA match for a positive result.”
There is a lot at stake in the Imphal game on Sunday. The Champions would have completed their first round of matches by the end of it and a win would mean they would look forward to the second round with renewed confidence whereas a loss could derail the campaign seriously.
For the hosts as well, a win could take them to clear second position and open up a gap with the chasing pack. So it will be all to play for at the Khuman Lampak between two very competitive sides.
The hosts do not have any major injury concerns at the moment and are raring to go into the game. The Manipuri side are expected to keep the same XI that defeated Churchill Brothers in the previous game.
The Warriors also do not have any absentees, going into the game and are expected to go all out to register their fourth win of the season.
NEROCA FC- Thapa (GK), Eduardo, Kallon, Ashok, Katsumi, Chidi, Singam, Malemganba, Sebastian, Thangjam, Aryn
Minerva Punjab- Arshdeep (GK), Njoku, Toure, Kuboki, Akashdeep, Souvik, Sangwan, Jagpreet, Rodriguez, Opoku, Amandeep
The game kicks off at 2 PM IST on Sunday at the Khuman Lumpak Stadium in Imphal. The game will be telecasted live on Star Sports 3 along with Hotstar and Jio TV.
Published: Sat Dec 22, 2018 07:34 PM IST