Kerala Blasters FC are a tough nut to crack but can they stop Jamshedpur FC’s winning machine?

ATK Mohun Bagan are taking on Jamshedpur FC in the final match of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) league-phase of the season. ATK Mohun Bagan need a win by two goals or more to leapfrog Jamshedpur FC in the table and claim the top spot. Naturally, the Mariners are throwing the kitchen sink at Jamshedpur FC. They have created some chances but the Men of Steel have held on, relying on their well-drilled defence and an ability to survive difficult periods in the game that has been on display all season long.

But then, a switch is flicked. Jamshedpur FC begin swarming the opposition and they carve open an opportunity and make the net bulge. It isn’t the most eye-catching goal, but it counts. If anything, it is the embodiment of how a team in the Hero ISL can graft, grit their teeth and ultimately grind out a victory, a true hallmark of champions.

But, Jamshedpur FC have made a habit of it. They find ways to win matches. They have more ways than one to win games. They can also win different types of games. Be it against a possession-driven ATK Mohun Bagan or against an opportunistic NorthEast United FC.

Then there is Kerala Blasters FC, a club that has seen plenty of ups and downs since its inception. The team is backed into a corner against a fellow title contender in ATK Mohun Bagan. They are pinned deep into their half and their early perseverance has given way to slight tentativeness.

Match Preview: Semi-final 1, First-leg Preview: Jamshedpur FC look to continue their dominance against Kerala Blasters FC 

They are pressurised by the opposition but their high work-rate and ability to find the net from distance through their fabulous attackers keeps the opponent honest as they get a valuable point out of the match that keeps them on course for the semi-finals.

Prima facie, both of these philosophies seem pretty similar. Ivan Vukomanovic and Owen Coyle (Kerala Blasters FC and Jamshedpur FC head coaches, respectively) have drilled into their sides a certain kind of tenacity – a tenacity that doesn’t allow them to wilt under pressure.

More often than not, it enables them to come through tricky rubbles unscathed. Quite regularly, one of their marquee stars has produced moments of magic – moments that allow them to prevail even through the most difficult circumstances.

The crux of Jamshedpur FC’s modus operandi is their ability to hustle and harry their opponents brilliantly, whether it be in their own defensive third or further up front.

That, apart from not giving their rivals the requisite time and space, has led to the Men of Steel conceding the least shots on goal (203) and least shots on target (60) for any side in the Hero ISL this season. Oh, and they’ve shipped only 21 goals this entire campaign – a tally no team can match.

This then creates situations where teams go searching for opportunities against Jamshedpur FC, leave the back door open and give up relatively clear-cut chances. Speaking of chances, only FC Goa have created more openings this season than Jamshedpur FC – a stat that tells you the Men of Steel are equally brilliant going forward. They have an array of talent up front who can turn on the style at will.

Kerala Blasters, FC, meanwhile, have not been as creative as Jamshedpur FC in the attacking third – in terms of chance creation at least. Yet, they have managed to make the net ripple 34 times in 20 matches, which roughly equates to 1.7 goals per game and is the fifth-highest tally in the league.

What they do better than most sides, though, is keep a clean sheet. In fact, no team (not named Jamshedpur FC) has managed more than the seven shut-outs Kerala Blasters FC have put together.

Jamshedpur FC seem to have mastered it and have used it to consistently win matches. They have pumped in goals for fun during such stretches and have found inspiration even when things haven’t been as rosy. That argument, by the way, is supported by the 13 victories they have claimed so far.

Kerala Blasters FC, on the other hand, have not always and as consistently been able to translate it into as many victories. There have been encounters where the Tuskers have put the opposition to the sword. Yet, they’ve not really made that advantage count – something illustrated by the seven draws (second-most in the league) they have picked up this season.

So, to put it simply, Jamshedpur FC have found ways to win clutch games, whereas Kerala Blasters FC have found ways to not lose them. Both would, on first glance, sound very similar but are different. In fact, this could well be the difference between a season of near misses or a watershed campaign.  

On Friday, Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters FC are set to engross themselves in another titanic Hero ISL semi-final rendition. And, by the looks of it, Kerala Blasters FC would want to convert those draws into wins. For the Men of Steel, it's all about carrying on from where they left off in the league stage. Winning football matches for fun.

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