14:30 GMT, Friday 23rd February, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Kochi, India), Sab TV UK
The playoff battle intensifies as Kerala Blasters look to displace Jamshedpur from the top four with a win over second-placed Chennaiyin FC. They host the Super Machans on Friday.
John Gregory’s team has had a not-so-consistent showing this season, but overall display from the team has helped them make-up for their deficiencies in attack and defence. But despite all that, they still need two points to qualify for the playoffs.
With only two games in hand and a quickly intensifying battle between the fifth, sixth and seventh-placed teams, things could get out-of-hand for the Marina Machans if they don’t register a win.
The Blasters have come a long way this season, battling for points during Rene Meulensteen’s time to being just six points away from qualification with two games in hand.
While they face similar problems in attack as their next opponent, David James will be wary that a loss will drastically reduce their playoff chances.
Last Time Out
NorthEast United FC 0-1 Kerala Blasters FC (Indian Super League)
This was an intense fixture between the Highlanders and the Blasters as both teams looked for three points.
The Blasters failed to match the home team in possession, pass accuracy or shots on target, but Wes Brown made the difference as he put in a classic header from Jackichand Singh’s corner kick to seal the match.
Gudjon Baldvinsson could not make the most of his opportunity as Iain Hume remains sidelined due to injury, while Paul Rachubka put in a couple of nice saves to deny the Highlanders as his defence failed to close down the opposition forwards.
They almost had their first goal in the first half as TP Rehenesh palmed Nirmal Chhetri’s attempt to clear Jackichand Singh’s cross into his own goal. But the ball bounced off the top bar as Rehenesh recovered to collect the ball.
Chennaiyin FC 1-1 Jamshedpur FC (Indian Super League)
Despite dominating the match with 61% possession and 11 shots (off target), the home side did not have a clear shot on goal until the 89th minute.
Raphael Augusto was the only outfield player to have had a shy on goal as Jeje Lalpekhlua had another quiet game, failing to find the back of the net in four games now.
The Jamshedpur defence seemed well up to the task to handle Augusto, Fransico Fernandes and Jeje as they restricted the Super Machans from getting in any clear crosses or chances inside the penalty box.
A 32nd-minute strike from Wellington Priori set the Chennaiyin FC back as the visitors took the lead from Priori’s curling and dipping strike from outside the box.
The Super Machans laboured to equalise but the absence of any particular link-up play between the target man and the three forwards behind him failed to get them any close until Mohammed Rafi put in a thumping header on Rene Mihelic’s corner kick in the 89th minute to take home a point.
Kerala Blasters FC Lineup
Lalruatthara remains sidelined with an injury and is set to miss out on another game while Milan Singh should be preferred against Arata Izumi.
Similarly, Dimitar Berbatov might have more of an influence against Pulga in midfield while the front three is likely to remain constant.
Chennaiyin FC Lineup
Dhanpal Ganesh seems to be out injured so Bikramjit Singh can partner Anirudh Thapa in the double pivot.
Germanpreet Singh has put up an impressive display this season, but Jude Nwuroh should start on the flanks.
Key Battle: Dimitar Berbatov (Kerala Blasters FC) vs Raphael Augusto (Chennaiyin FC)
Dimitar Berbatov needs to introduction but the man who's often praised for his first-touch could not feature in the majority of the matches due to injury.
His return to the team though does not seem to him taking an attacking position, with Courage Pekuson being the primary playmaker in the team. David James and Meulensteen before him, both have used Berbatov as a central midfielder but his influence on scripting the game has been immense.
He got his first goal in the league against ATK, scoring a low-curling effort aimed at the bottom corner of the goal. Despite his age, his experience and technical abilities will play a major role in a crucial match such as this.
Augusto has featured alternatively with Rene Mihelic for the Super Machans and the wily Brazilian has an amazing right foot which can curl in shots into the top corner of the goal from outside the box.
Apart from this long-range abilities, his dribbling and passing skills have allowed him to draw out defenders while creating space for Jeje and Francisco Fernandes to move in before the final pass is played. His influence on Chennaiyin’s game will be as crucial as Berbatov’s on the Blasters.
Two teams that lack an in-form striker, take on each other
In this instalment of the South India derby, both teams lack a number nine who can take a game by the scruff of the neck and force through defenders to find the back of the net.
While Iain Hume had that ability, his injury means that the Blasters have Baldvinsson to depend upon but the Icelandic international has scored only one goal so far, while crowd favourite CK Vineeth has been inconsistent.
Similarly, the Super Machans have Jeje as their true and tested striker but the Manipuri marksman has been off his target for some time now, with this last goal being a defensive error by ATK keeper Debjit Majumder.
Chennaiyin FC has been able to grind through games as Jeje’s impact on the games have decreased, purely due to the collective effort of the team where every player has pitched in with the goals. But for a competition as fierce as the ISL, it’s a risky affair with a lot riding on luck and opposition’s marking abilities.
Prediction: Kerala Blasters 0-1 Chennaiyin FC
John Gregory’s team are better organised and carry the element of danger from their fullbacks, particularly Inigo Calderon.
On the other hand, the Blasters have been inconsistent this season. Despite the lack of an in-form striker, the Super Machans look most likely to take the win.