Can Kerala Blasters FC defy history and recent trends against ATK Mohun Bagan?
Kerala Blasters FC and ATK Mohun Bagan are separated by just two places and three points on the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) table but there is a fine line in between that distinguishes the vastly different moods in the two camps.
As it stands, that line is one that demarcates the cut-off line for the playoffs. Kerala Blasters FC have made it through and are on the other side of the line while ATK Mohun Bagan have work to do to make the cut.
They can do so by beating the Blasters on Saturday, an opponent that they have done extremely well against in the past. The Kochi-based side are the only team in Hero ISL that the Mariners have never tasted defeat against. They have also scored more goals (15) against the Blasters than any other team in the league.
The Ivan Vukomanovic-coached side have scored just eight goals against the Mariners in Hero ISL and have never kept a clean sheet against them.
The Yellow Army have won just twice on their visits to Kolkata that includes meetings against ATK FC and East Bengal FC. This will be their first clash against the Mariners in Kolkata but Ivan Vukomanovic’s team won’t have happy memories of the Vivekanand Yuba Bharati Krirangan as they suffered a 1-0 defeat against the Red and Gold brigade there recently.
There is more reason for Kerala Blasters FC to be worried ahead of their Kolkata trip. Their form on the road has been quite poor, especially recently.
The Kochi outfit are winless in their last five away matches, have lost their last four, and have failed to score in the last two. So, the Tuskers have history and recent form weighing heavily against their favour ahead of this fixture but that is not all.
A trend this season shows that Kerala Blasters FC have been susceptible to counter-attacks and have conceded nine goals on transitions which is the second joint-highest. In ATK Mohun Bagan, they face opponents who are the league’s best when it comes to catching opponents cold on counter-attacks.
In the reverse fixture, the Mariners scored four goals on the counter against the Blasters in a 5-2 success in Kochi. Although it was a result that prompted Vukomanovic to adopt a more pragmatic approach in their recent defensive struggles besides the absence of Marko Leskovic that has been concerning for the Blasters of late.
The Yellow Army may have qualified for the playoffs but the encounter in Kolkata is far from a dead rubber for them. Finishing in top four would hand the Blasters home advantage in the knockout match which could be vital considering their contrasting fortunes at home and on the road this season.
The Blasters would be keen to host their opponents in Kochi in the all-important clash with a place in the semi-final on offer with their fans backing them.
But for that, they will have to beat a series of hoodoos – the ATK Mohun Bagan one, the away form one, the Kolkata record one, and a few more. A defeat against the Mariners would see the Kolkata side leapfrog the Blasters into third place which could then leave them needing a result against Hyderabad FC in their final home match to secure a top-four finish.
Vukomanovic would want to avoid pressure in the final match of the league stage against such a seasoned opponent. He can take some encouragement from ATK Mohun Bagan’s recent struggles and feel that this may be their best chance to improve their poor record against their opponents and also on the road this season.
Juan Ferrando’s side have won just two out of their last nine matches in the Hero ISL and have struggled for goals all season. They have scored the least number of goals in the top six, having scored just six times in their last ten matches.
Injuries have largely hampered their progress this season and the Mariners appear to be limping towards the finishing line in the playoff race with nothing guaranteed so far. Playing at home will add to the pressure of the situation they find themselves in and Kerala Blasters FC could do well to take advantage of it.
Saturday promises to be an intriguing contest with it having so many plots and subplots. It will also attract eyeballs from beyond West Bengal and Kerala with the fate of FC Goa and Odisha FC also partly hinging on the outcome of this match.
A fixture with a very lopsided history is set for a new chapter and one which can hold great significance in the stories of the two clubs involved and maybe even more.