Depleted Kerala defence face tough challenge against in-form Chennaiyin

Kerala Blasters FC and Chennaiyin FC are set to lock horns in another classic South Indian Derby when the two face off in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Saturday. Kerala are in need of a win to stay afloat in the top four race and will be eager to register all three points against their regional rivals in what will be their 50th Hero ISL match at their home venue.

Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala enjoy a fine record against Chennaiyin in Kochi, winning three, drawing two and losing just once in their previous six fixtures. Saturday's match, however, presents a tough challenge for Kerala, who will be without two crucial defensive pieces for the tie. Centre back Vlatko Drobarov and defensive screen Mouhamadou Gning are suspended for the match. Both foreigners have been playing integral roles in Kerala's defensive setup this season and the duo's absence may very well prove detrimental against an in-form Chennaiyin attack, which has been scoring freely of late. Head coach Eelco Schattorie is also suspended from the sidelines for the match, adding to Kerala's already substantial woes. If Gianni Zuiverloon manages to get fit for the tie, it will serve to soften the blow but the Dutchman’s current status is still unknown.

With the defence severely handicapped, a lot will ride on Kerala's offensive players, particularly Bartholomew Ogbeche and Messi Bouli, to get their team across the line on Saturday. With the top four race steadily approaching its conclusion and the odds stacked against them, Kerala can't afford to drop a single point from here on out and will look to their star strikers to deliver against Chennaiyin.

Kerala come into the match on the back of two consecutive narrow 3-2 defeats. There will be a niggling feeling inside the Kerala camp that both games (against Jamshedpur and FC Goa) could have been won if the team had a little rub of the green.

Chennaiyin FC

After Owen Coyle's arrival, Chennaiyin have done exceptionally well to turn their season around in emphatic fashion and now find themselves with an outside chance of making the top four. A win on Saturday will go a long way in aiding them in their pursuit. Based on recent form alone, the Marina Machans will back themselves to secure the vital three points against their Southern rivals. Chennaiyin have won their last three matches on a row and will be looking to maki it four at the expense of Kerala.

A big reason behind the turnaround under Coyle has been the team’s attack, which has been firing all cylinders since he took over the reins. Under their new gaffer, the likes of Nerijus Valskis, Rafael Crivellaro, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Andre Schembri and others have found a new lease of life, scoring a whopping 16 goals in their last seven matches. Valskis, in fact, leads the Golden Boot race with ten goals to his name, with five of them coming in Chennaiyin’s last three matches.

The record, however, isn’t quite as impressive while on the road with the team having scored just four times in five away matches this season, with three of them coming against bottom-of-the-table Hyderabad in a 3-1 away win. Due to play four of their last five fixtures away from home, Coyle and his boys need to improve their away record, preferably starting with Saturday’s clash, if they want to give themselves a fighting chance in the top four race.

In fact, after a few hiccups, Chennaiyin’s defence has also improved of late, with Lucian Goian and Co conceding just twice in their last three outings.

Probable line-ups:

Kerala Blasters FC: TP Rehenesh (GK), Raju Gaikwad, Jessel Carneiro, Mohamad Rakip, Abdul Hakku, Jeakson Singh, Mario Arques, Sergio Cidoncha, Halicharan Narzary, Messi Bouli, Bartholomew Ogbeche

Chennaiyin FC: Vishal Kaith (GK), Laldinliana Renthlei, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Eli Sabia, Lucian Goian, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Edwin Vanspaul, Anirudh Thapa, Rafael Crivellaro, Andre Schembri, Nerijus Valskis

Did you know?

  • The match will be Kerala’s 50th match at Kochi. (17 wins, 20 draws and 12 losses in 49 matches).
  • In their six matches in Kochi, Chennaiyin have scored just 3 goals and won just once.
  • Chennaiyin have scored just 4 goals (second lowest) in 5 away matches this season.

Live Broadcast Schedule:

Hero ISL 2019-20 Match 72: Kerala Blasters FC vs Chennaiyin FC

Date: February 1 (Saturday)

Time: 7:30 PM onwards

Channels: Star Sports Network

Streaming: Hotstar and Jio TV

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