Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters FC share a healthy rivalry dating back to the first Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season when the two sides clashed in a thrilling semi-final tie that ended 4-3 in the Kochi-based side’s favour. 

Since then, there has always been a buzz around this clash, with the two sets of fans indulging in plenty of banter. 

Ahead of their meeting in Hero ISL 2022-23, the first one in front of fans after two years, there are plenty of reasons for the two sides to be optimistic. Just five points separate them on the table, and a win for Chennaiyin FC could see them go within touching distance of the Kerala Blasters. 

Ivan Vukomanovic’s side, though, is currently on their longest winning streak, winning five on the bounce and will be favourites to make it six in Chennai. But Chennaiyin FC fans would love to be the team that brings the Blaster’s winning run to an end. 

The biggest talking point ahead of the match will be the fast start made by Chennaiyin FC’s Abdenasser El Khayati, the league’s top goalscorer with seven strikes to his name. He is the kind of player that can produce magic on the field, which is worthy of winning big football matches. 

However, Kerala Blasters FC have a player with similar traits in Adrian Luna, who has been among the club’s best players in the last two seasons. 

El Khayati and Luna have been talismanic for their respective teams. They will be the players the fans look forward to watching the most, thanks to their ability to conjure a moment of brilliance from virtually nothing. 

Monday’s clash between the two southern sides could come down to the performances of these two stars. 

Ahead of the game, Hero ISL experts Paul Masefield and Erik Paartalu compare the two players

What are the biggest strengths of El Khayati and Luna?

Masefield: The ability that these two players have is second to none in the league. It's always exciting watching them play, not only when they are running at players but also due to the intelligent positions they take up as well to receive the ball. 

El Khayati always drops into a hole and tries to get on the ball. Adrian Luna does the same. He looks for pockets of space, and he goes there, and knows that when he can get the ball, he can really hurt the opposition not just with his dribbling but also with his delivery and the quality that they deliver into the box, and the passing is very accurate. They can put a ball anywhere they want, especially, if they know one of their teammates will be there. 

Paartalu: They are special because they see things that other players don't see, and attempt things that not many players cannot execute. 

They've both played at very high levels before coming here, so their standards are above many players around them. But to keep those standards up once you drop down a few levels is where it gets tricky, and both of them have maintained a top level of performance and fitness. That's the key. They go out there and make smart runs to get on the ball, and they will have coached the other players to identify the spaces in which to find them. 

How are the two players different? 

Masefield: Adrian Luna and Abdenasser El Khayati are different in a couple of ways. When you talk about Adrian Luna, you talk about his work rate and work ethic. He is buzzing all over the park. He doesn't stop for 90 minutes. El Khayati doesn't have that same work rate, but he has so much ability that it's untrue. 

Paartalu: Luna is heavily involved in each match, and his work rate is enormous. El Khayati is just getting going fitness wise, but he's managing to make a difference in each match he plays. 

What do the stats say?

Goal contributions: El Khayati’s numbers have been outrageous this season, and even a player like Luna can’t keep up with him. He has scored seven goals and provided four assists in just six matches. This is the fastest start, in terms of goal contributions, any player has made in Hero ISL history. 

Luna has scored just twice and assisted three times this season, but he has been heavily involved in everything that Kerala Blasters FC have created. Luna has been used in a slightly different role this season as he has played more central compared to out wide last season. Luna has had fewer opportunities to score, with the Blasters playing two out-and-out strikers. 

Creativity: This is a parameter where Luna scores over El Khayati. Creativity is more than providing assists, and Luna has made a difference in his team’s moves more often than not. He has created 24 chances in nine matches and is only behind Hugo Boumous and Greg Stewart in this parameter. 

El Khayati has managed just eight chances for his teammates in six matches. 

Defensive contribution: Luna also excels in this parameter as he has made 23 tackles, seven interceptions and two clearances compared to just two tackles from El Khayati. The Chennaiyin FC midfielder has played far fewer minutes than Luna and has predominantly been used further forward.

Overall statistics: El Khayati has a staggering goal conversion rate of 50% as compared to 10% for Luna. However, the Kerala Blasters FC midfielder is more involved in the team’s attacks which can be seen from a higher passes-per-game ratio of 47.67 for Luna as compared to 30.83 for El Khayati. Luna also has a passing accuracy of 70% this season compared to 65% of El Khayati. 

There is very little to choose between the two magicians who have been the heartbeat of their respective sides. Picking who is better may be a debate for a lifetime, but Monday’s clash may give one of the two players the edge until probably the two teams meet the next time.