Three points, bragging rights, and various sub-plots of the playoff race will be at stake when arch-rivals Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters meet in a high-intensity Hero Indian Super League (ISL) encounter at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Saturday. A win for the Blasters will confirm their qualification for the playoffs, while the Blues have a chance to pull further clear of Odisha FC in the skirmish for sixth place.

Bengaluru FC’s resurgence with five wins on the trot has seen them break into the playoff spots over the last few weeks. Last week, Simon Grayson’s men kept their winning streak intact with their maiden Hero ISL victory against ATK Mohun Bagan. Bengaluru FC have scored 13 goals in the last five matches but have only kept one clean sheet during this stint.

The top goal contributors for Bengaluru FC this season, Javi Hernandez and Roy Krishna, were on target last week. Hernandez has scored five and assisted three, while Krishna has scored four and assisted four. Midfielder Suresh Wangjam picked up his fourth yellow card of the season and will miss this game. 

“We are in a positive frame of mind because of recent results. After winning five games on the trot, the players are confident. There is a fine line between confidence and over-confidence and we certainly know that we have not achieved anything yet,” said Grayson. “Tomorrow is another big step to where we want to get to. It has added spice because it’s the local derby, and the atmosphere will be unbelievable,” he added.

After finishing as runners-up last season, Kerala Blasters FC are one win away from securing their second successive Hero ISL playoff qualification. However, it will be no cakewalk for the Blasters to do so on the road against a high-flying Bengaluru FC.

In the last five games, Ivan Vukomanovic’s men have lost three and won two. All three defeats have come away from home. In their last five away games, the Blasters have lost three, drawn one and won just once. Their last away win came on December 4 in Jamshedpur.

Last week, goals from Adrian Luna and Rahul KP helped Kerala Blasters get the better of Chennaiyin FC. Luna has now scored four and assisted six for the Blasters. The Uruguayan is also one booking away from suspension. 

“It is an important game for both sides. Our opponents are in good form with a positive mindset, fighting for a playoff spot and so are we,” said Vukomanovic. “It is always a spicy encounter between these two teams. I’ve heard that thousands of our fans have traveled for this match. All players and coaches dream of participating in such an encounter,” he added.

These two rivals have clashed in 11 Hero ISL matches. Bengaluru FC have won six, while Kerala Blasters FC have won thrice. Earlier this season, the Blasters beat the Blues 3-2 in Kochi.