Kerala Blasters FC vs FC Goa: A match-up of lopsided history and two fine head coaches

The contest between Kerala Blasters FC and FC Goa has witnessed a rich profusion of footballing action, ranging from on-pitch brilliance to a healthy clash between both sets of fans. When the two face off against each other at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kochi, on Sunday, it simply will not be just a game of football.

Over the years, not only have the two sides battled ferociously on the field, but in doing so, they have also ignited a special kind of rivalry between the two massive set of supporters. Not a single fixture between the two has ever ended in a goalless draw, and that is a testament to how exceptional this fixture is in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL).

Both teams have faced each other 16 times in the Hero ISL where the Gaurs have come out on top nine times while the Blasters have won just thrice. The Goan side hold the bragging rights over their opponents as they have been unbeaten in their last 10 matches against the Tuskers, winning four and drawing six matches. The Gaurs’ last defeat in this fixture came in the 2016 season.

Kerala Blasters FC

 

FC Goa

3

Wins

9

4

Draws

4

9

Losses

3

23

Goals scored

40

1

Clean sheet

2

However, in the Hero ISL 2022-23 season, the pair have gone down different routes, and are afar from each other in the league standings. Ivan Vukomanovic’s men see themselves in the seventh position while the Gaurs are much higher in the third position and have a game in hand.

Having won their opening fixture against East Bengal FC on their home turf at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, the three-time Hero ISL finalists have not lived up to their expectations this season. The side went on a three-game losing streak before finally picking up a much-needed win against NorthEast United FC in their previous match. While the side might have not resumed business as usual this season, the Blasters have been one of the best attacking sides in the league.

They’ve scored close to two goals a game (1.8 goals/match) and tend to get many shots on the opposition goal (15 shots/match). Only ATK Mohun Bagan (17.2 shots/match) and Mumbai City (15.2 shots/match) have managed more shots/match than Kerala Blasters in the Hero ISL 2022-23. The side has landed 28 shots on target (5.6 shots on target/match), second only to the Mariners who have managed 6.6 shots/match, and boast of the second-best shot accuracy this season, clocking at 37.3%.

Yet, a puzzling uncertainty looms over the Blasters’ defence as the side have leaked 10 goals this season, second most in the league. While they have returned to their home stadium, they haven’t held their fort and haven’t got the most out of their enormous fan support. Although Vukomanovic has placed his faith in his largely unchanged squad, he is yet to find the right chord that can tune out the best out of his playing XI.

“If they go on to beat FC Goa, it’ll be three wins out of six games, and that is a 50% success rate, ain’t bad at all. I think Ivan Vukomanovic, perhaps more than any other coach in the league, knows his squad (well). He knows his players very well. He is the first coach to be retained for a second season by Kerala Blasters FC. I think he gets the best out of his team and that will be the case in this game. The last win was vital for them against NorthEast United FC and if they can build on that, they’ll be okay,” stated John Helm, professional football commentator, on how the team still has the spirit to win games.

On the contrary, the Carlos Pena-coached FC Goa have started the season on a strong note, losing only one of their four fixtures while having clinched full points in the rest three. The former player-turned-coach has fit in perfectly fine and has brought back glory days at the club within no time. Not just the points on board speak that but so do the performances from the players, and if they remain consistent with it, that might be a determining factor as to where the Gaurs find themselves come the end of the season.

“I believe Carlos Pena can challenge for the highest honours this season. The reason I say that is because he’s got a better squad, he’s got a better set of foreign players. Edu Bedia seems to be playing as well as ever. I like Alvaro Vazquez very much; he was excellent for Kerala Blasters FC last year. He’s been injured so we’re yet to see the best of him this season. So, I think it’s all looking very good for FC Goa, they got to improve on last season. They will be up there challenging for the top six,” added Helm on how Carlos Pena has shaped FC Goa this season.

The Gaurs have conceded the fewest goals this season (2) and have kept two clean sheets in four matches so far, second only to Hyderabad FC who have kept five clean sheets. A notable fact about Pena’s men is that they have managed to crack the formula to score early goals, as they have already notched four early goals (under the 15th minute mark) this season, most by any team.

In their last win, FC Goa scored two early goals against Jamshedpur. Iker Guarrotxena and Noah Sadaoui scored two goals in the 2nd and 12th minute respectively, with Guarrotxena’s goal being the quickest one of the season so far. The two have been the face of the attack supplied by the creativity of Redeem Tlang, Brandon Fernandes, and Edu Bedia in the midfield. 

“Goa need to build on that last victory against Jamshedpur FC that was incredibly impressive in a 3-0 win. They took a stranglehold on that match very early on with the early goals, excellent three points, which is a good build in their superb start to the season,” he added.

“In Noah and Guarrotxena, FC Goa have got two of the better newcomers in the Hero ISL this season. Guarrotxena in particular, I think he’s a really good footballer, a professional. Noah has got pace, and he could learn a little bit, I think he’s still a bit immature in some of the things that he does on the field but he’s a good player, he’ll score a few goals. Another trait about FC Goa, where they have improved, is that Brandon (Fernandes) is back and fully fit, and firing. He scored a goal early in the season and that will help his confidence. And now, we’ve seen a new youngster, Brison (Fernandes) come in and score a goal in the last game as well,” Helm concluded.

While the stakes and history may be stacked against them, the Tuskers have shown a different identity under head coach Vukomanovic. On the surface, they have had below par results but the side still has a massive potential to pull an upset on the high-riding Gaurs, and write a new chapter in this entertaining contest. With an intense and an ever-growing rivalry between these two sides, one can surely expect a firecracker of a match.  

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