The southerners still have an outside shot at the top four but need other results to go their way.
Kerala Blasters FC coach David James is up against a man who coached him in the past but pleasantries will be exchanged only till kick-off as the visitors look for nothing less than full points against NorthEast United FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati, on Saturday.
Kerala Blasters have a fighting chance of qualifying for the semi-finals of the Hero Indian Super League with 21 points from 15 matches. They must win all three remaining matches to have a chance of qualifying and may still not make it. And James, the former England goalkeeper, will have to start it all by outwitting NorthEast United coach Avram Grant, who was his coach at Portsmouth FC in 2010.
Portsmouth, captained by James, made it to the final of the FA Cup against all odds, where they lost 0-1 to Chelsea FC, who also won the English Premier League that season.
“The coach was my player. Eight years ago we made it to the final of the (FA) Cup. We had an unbelievable achievement. He was the captain. I wish him all the best but we will try to win the game. It’s good for the future that the team will not give up and show good mentality,” said NorthEast United coach Avram Grant during the pre-match media interaction.
NorthEast United are already out of the competition but will need the three points to give their home fans something to cheer. Two of the three victories for NorthEast United have come at home.
“You all know what happened in the first half of the season. We tried to improve things that needed to improve. We came out of the situation. From being good in counter, now we dominate and create a lot of chances. Last three games is typical to what happened, control the game, miss chances and rivals score from one half-attack. The results are better than the first half but not like we expected,” said Grant.
Kerala Blasters allowed defending champions ATK to snatch points from them with a late draw in their last game which halted their run of two successive victories. Assistant coach Hermann Hreioarsson admitted that the focus has been on them ahead of this clash and they are now ready to put their best foot forward.
“We are still in it. We have to go into every game playing for a win. We are happy with our progress. In the last game, we created many chances: 18 shots and 25 crosses,” said Hreioarsson.
Kerala Blasters can reach a maximum of 30 points and will need FC Pune City (28 points), Chennaiyin FC (27 points) and Jamshedpur FC (25 points) to drop points.
NorthEast United FC 2 – 4 Kerala Blasters FC (1 draw).
Halicharan Narzary (Northeast United)
The pacey winger has been a livewire in attack for his team. He has used his speed and trickery to good effect to get the better of the opposition defence time and again. Narzary is capable of creating openings in abundance for NorthEast and has an eye for picking out incisive passes, while also surging forward and getting shots away. He has three assists to his name and will be looking to make his presence felt against Kerala.
Courage Pekuson (Kerala Blasters)
The Ghanaian has been the powerhouse of Kerala’s midfield. He is a physical specimen and possesses an abundance pace to keep opposition defences troubled. A neat passer of the ball, Pekuson loves getting into the opposition box and testing the goalkeeper. The 23-year-old has a goal as well as five assists to his name and will be looking to make a major impact when his team visit Guwahati.
Avram Grant will probably field a 4-2-3-1 formation in search of balance between attack and defence.
Goalkeeper: TP Rehenesh
Defenders: Nirmal Chettri, Jose Goncalves, Sambinha, Reagan Singh
Midfielders: John Mosquera, Rowllin Borges, Seiminlen Doungel, Maic Sema, Halicharan Narzary
Forward: Danilo Lopes
David James is likely to use his tried and tested 4-4-2 formation as the Blasters set their sights on a winning run to propel them into the playoffs.
Goalkeeper: Subhasish Roy
Defenders: Lalruatthara, Wes Brown, Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Rino Anto
Midfielders: Courage Pekuson, Dimitar Berbatov, Milan Singh, Jackichand Singh, CK Vineeth
Forwards: Gudjon Baldvinsson
- Kerala have drawn the most number of matches so far (6) while NorthEast have lost the most (10)
Kerala Blasters FC 1 – 0 NorthEast United FC (15th December 2017 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi)
Form Guide: (Last five matches)
NorthEast United FC: L L L D L
Kerala Blasters FC: D W W L L