14:30 GMT, Thursday 29th February, Sree Kanteerava Stadium (Bengaluru, India), Sab TV UK
The table toppers Bengaluru FC have already qualified for the playoffs and now face a team recently ousted from the playoff race, Kerala Blasters.
The Blasters only hope for qualification was for FC Goa to lose against ATK and then win against Jamshedpur FC in their final match. All of this was dependent on them winning against Bengaluru.
Unfortunately for them, Goa turned ATK over 5-1 and now sit comfortably in the fourth position with 27 points. As a result, whoever wins Goa’s final encounter, will head to the playoffs.
The Blues play this match as a mere formality, then, and will hope it gives the fans something to cheer about. The Blasters, on the other hand, will be glad for the season to be over.
Last Time Out
Jamshedpur FC 0-2 Bengaluru FC (Indian Super League)
Bengaluru played a strong side in an inconsequential match against the Men of Steel.
Early in the first half, the Blues created two clear chances through Miku, Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri, but Chhetri and Miku both failed to convert.
However, minutes later Miku was brought down in the penalty box by keeper Subrata Pal and the referee pointed to the spot. The Venezuelan calmly slotted it away scoring the first of the night and his tenth of the competition.
The Blues continued to push the home side, exposing the gap between their defenders on numerous occasions. In the 34th minute, Toni Dovale's corner kick saw Chhetri redeem himself with a clinical header, doubling their lead over Jamshedpur FC.
Jamshedpur attempted to take the game to the visitors but Bengaluru were far too well-organised defensively.
The second half saw Jamshedpur play more adventurously but despite some close calls, failed to find the back of the net.
Kerala Blasters 0-0 Chennaiyin FC (Indian Super League)
The scoreline masks the actual story of the match. In reality, the South Indian derby had it all, except for the goals.
Kerala’s CK Vineeth missed a couple of sitters in the game and what could have been an opportunity for him to perform at a crucial stage, was ultimately wasted.
Gudjob Baldvinsson and Vineeth combined well to break through Chennaiyin’s defences but neither could find the back of the net as Chennaiyin keeper Karanjit Singh stood strong beneath the crossbar.
In fact, there was a first-half penalty awarded to Kerala Blasters, after Baldvinsson was brought down inside the box but Courage Pekuson’s effort was expertly handled by Singh, who swatted it away.
Bengaluru FC Lineup
Coach Albert Roca might opt for a couple of late appearances featuring Semboi Haokip and Daniel Segovia but should keep the spine of the team the same as the last match.
Kerala Blasters FC Lineup
The Blasters are likely to start the same side but, with Iain Hume still out injured, their scoring chances are restricted.
Key Battle: Miku (FC Goa) vs Sandesh Jhingan (Kerala Blasters)
Miku, the Venezuelan striker, has been in hot form for the Blues in their debut ISL season.
After going through a rough patch in an opening couple of matches, his link-up play with Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri improved, as the Chhetri and Miku combined to pump in 23 of the 33 goals scored by Bengaluru this season.
Goa's No 7 is intelligent off the ball and reads the game extremely well, creating space for himself, while his ability to switch positions with Singh and Chhetri, means he can be a provider as well.
The responsibility of restricting him on Thursday will lie with Kerala Blasters skipper Sandesh Jhinghan.
While former Blasters coached questioned his professionalism, the India international has put in some brilliant performances recently and his size and pace should help him restrain Miku.
It’s all for the pride
The Blasters’ season is done. They have narrowly missed out on qualification despite a late surge in performance, which saw them enjoy a five-match unbeaten run.
But points dropped in their last match against Chennaiyin and other six draws this season will surely haunt them. While David James’s return surely worked well to galvanise the team, the absence of a quality back-up striker punished the team.
At this point, it’s all about pride as the Blasters will look to make the most out of this fixture. They’ll remember how Bengaluru visited them early in the season and gave a 3-1 drubbing to motivate them for this match.
Prediction: Bengaluru FC 2-0 Kerala Blasters
Kerala do not have an in-perform striker to help them score goals convincingly and their talisman CK Vineeth has seemingly lost his ability to score the wonder-goals that made him a fan favourite. Against the Blues, his consistency might return to haunt them again.