The Machans will look to continue their fine form when they welcome their southern rivals to the Marina Arena on Friday night.
Chennai made few headline-grabbing signings this season, but coach John Gregory has certainly concocted a side that can get the job done. Although he doesn’t seem keen on playing an attractive brand of football, he has been able to eke out wins. Now sitting third – level on points with table-toppers Goa and second-placed Bengaluru – they look equipped to qualify for the knockout stages for the third time in four seasons.
Kerala, on the other hand, brought down numerous high-profile personalities such as Rene Meulensteen, Wes Brown, Dimitar Berbatov and returning club legend Iain Hume. However, although their defensive record is the second-best in the league, they have been struggling to convert draws into wins as they now sit seventh, with six points in five games.
The result can catapult Chennai to the top of the table or help Kerala climb to the top half and, as things stand, struggling Kerala seem to need a win for Christmas more than Chennai do.
Chennai now have fewer injury concerns than most other top-flight sides, and one expects their English coach to field a full-strength line-up on Friday night. Teenager Anirudh Thapa, who has been impressive in the 184 minutes he’s played, looks to return to the starting line-up as do Rene Mihelic, Mohamed Rafi and Jaime Gavilan. Jude Nworuh, meanwhile, will hope to retain his place having pushed Gregory Nelson down the pecking order.
Kerala’s marquee signing Dimitar Berbatov isn’t pencilled in to return until the turn of the year, so young Courage Pekuson will likely start in his place again. One expects few changes to the line-up and formation that the Kerala coach had used in the win against NorthEast.
Head to Head
Chennai have never lost to Kerala at Marina Arena, winning two and drawing one although their record away from home isn’t half as good. Given either team’s record heading into the southern derby, one predicts a fifth win in seven games for the home side.
Man To Watch
Jeje Lalpekhlua-Chennaiyin FC: After coming under the microscope for failing to score in the opening three games, the Mizoram striker has bounced back in style, scoring three goals in two recent starts. On Friday, the top Indian goal-scorer will look to break another duck, by scoring his first goal against Kerala.
CK Vineeth-Kerala Blasters: Made to sit out the 5-2 defeat at Goa, the Kannur-born midfielder announced himself again in Kerala’s 1-0 victory over NorthEast, scoring the solitary goal. He, who scored twice in five minutes against Chennai last season, will be tasked with undoing Chennai’s tight backline.
Did You Know
Chennai have scored seven goals at Marina Arena, as opposed to Kerala’s measly two in three outings.
Either Chennai or Kerala have featured in every Indian Super League final thus far although they have never faced each other.
Third-placed Chennai have conceded more than bottom-half side Kerala have done this season.
The match will be broadcast on Star Sports 2 and Star Sports HD 2 at 20:00 hours. It will also be available for streaming on Hotstar and Jio TV.