Battle of bottom half scrappers awaits as Kerala host NorthEast
Written by: P.S. Parameswaran
Both teams have struggled for a regular supply of goals.
Kerala Blasters haven’t made the kind of start their fans would have dreamed of in this season’s Indian Super League (ISL), and things could get worse for Rene Meulensteen and his boys if they fail to grab three points against NorthEast United on Friday. The thumping defeat suffered at the hands of FC Goa has put Blasters under immense pressure ahead of their home fixture. The visitors, meanwhile, must be desperate to shake off their narrow defeat against Bengaluru FC.
Ahead of his team’s first away trip, Meulensteen stressed how happy he was with their backline. But his delight turned into dismay after his side conceded five goals, of which three came in the span of seven minutes, against Goa.The defence led by Sandesh Jhingan had to pay heavily for a rare off-day.
Meulensteen will be glad to see the return of winger CK Vineeth. The Keralite had a decent outing against Mumbai City before being shown a second yellow card. With Jackichand Singh in fine form, NorthEast should be wary of the quality the Blasters have on the flanks.
The young midfielder Courage Pekuson will be keen to prove his worth in the absence of Dimitar Berbatov. The Ghanaian has the habit of giving the ball away cheaply and his poor decision-making in the final third have not helped him win the love of Blasters faithful yet. .
NEUFC coach Joao Carlos Pires de Deus would have had a word with TP Rehenesh after the 24-year-old’s mistake helped Bengaluru FC claim three points in Guwahati. The former East Bengal goalkeeper who made outstanding saves against Delhi Dynamos will be keen to make amends this time around.
The NorthEast head coach will also be expecting better link-up play between Marcinho and Brazilian forward Danilo Lopes.
Mark Sifneos' goal for Kerala Blasters against FC Goa was voted the Fans' Goal of the Week.
Berbatov's injury leaves Meulensteen much to ponder about his options in midfield. With the Bulgarian on the pitch, Blasters had 72% passing accuracy and once he limped off it fell to 59%. Milan Singh replaced the Bulgarian in Goa but the 53-year-old Dutch coach could be looking for someone who could hold the ball well and provide the perfect passes in the final third. Thus, fit again Iain Hume will be forced to fill in Berbatov’s position.
The Dutchman is also not expected to tinker his defence which had a torrid time against the Gaurs. Though former Manchester United defender Wes Brown claimed he is raring to go, Meulensteen will be unlikely to change his centre-back pairing of Jhingan and Nemanja Lakic-Pesic.
Holicharan Narzary’s impressive performances could force de Deus to leave Lalrindika Ralte on the bench again. Narzary’s exquisite cross set up NorthEast's first goal of the season. Former Stade de Reims forward Odair Fortes has recovered from his hamstring injury, but may not feature.
The last time both sides met it was a memorable outing for Blasters as a C K Vineeth goal helped them seal a place in the last four. The Kerala outfit have won three of the six games played against NorthEast and Blasters have managed to remain unbeaten at home. They claimed a thumping 4-1 win in Guwahati two seasons ago.
Man to Watch
Jackichand Singh-Kerala Blasters: Though Mark Sifneos has grabbed headlines for his exploits upfront, it’s Jackichand who has been most impressive so far. In the absence of Vineeth and Berbatov, the winger spearheaded the Blasters midfield against Goa. He set up the first goal for Sifneos with a lovely cross and scored the second goal from Milan Singh’s pass.
Marcinho–NorthEast United: Marcinho has had a role to play in both the goals scored by the Highlanders this season. Apart from being a goalscoring threat, the Brazilian has the ability to bring others into play and was unlucky not to beat Bengaluru FC goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte in their last match.
Did You Know?
- NorthEast United have lost their last two matches in Kochi.
- Kerala Blasters scored seven goals in two games against North East United in ISL Season 2.
- NorthEast United’s first ever ISL victory came against Kerala Blasters.
The match will be broadcast live on Star Sports 2 and Stars Sports 2 HD 7.45 pm onwards. It will be also available for live streaming on Hotstar and Jio TV.
Published: Fri Dec 15, 2017 01:40 PM IST