Kerala Blasters FC will hope to reignite its campaign whilst hosting FC Goa at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi in their Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 fixture on February 25, Sunday, at 7:30 PM IST.

Placed fourth and fifth in the rankings respectively, FC Goa and Kerala Blasters FC are still strongly in contention to finish atop the standings despite the recent surge made by Mohun Bagan Super Giant and Mumbai City FC.

The Gaurs have 28 points from 14 games, and a win here will take them to 31, which will equal the tally of the Juggernauts and the Islanders. The Ivan Vukomanovic-coached side has a chance to go up to 29 and match the points garnered by the Mariners.

However, recent form hasn’t been supportive for either of these teams. FC Goa comes into this match in the back of successive home defeats - a 1-0 defeat to the Mohun Bagan Super Giant followed by a 2-0 loss to NorthEast United FC.

Similarly, the Kerala Blasters FC is yet to collect a point since the league resumed late last month. Three straight losses to Odisha FC, Punjab FC, and Chennaiyin FC have exposed the gaps prevalent in their setup, especially in the absence of key first-team stars due to their injuries. Which team will overcome this dark phase to come out triumphant in Kochi?

What’s at stake?

Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters FC will be desperately wanting to snap their three-game losing streak, having last succumbed to a longer such run back in October 2015 when they lost four consecutive matches.

Vukomanovic will be eager to better his record against his counterpart Manolo Marquez, who has won three out of the six face-offs between the two tacticians.

Whilst Vukomanovic has won twice, he fell to a 1-0 loss when they last squared off on December 3.

All eyes will be on their striker Dimitrios Diamantakos, with the forward winning nine points for his side this season.

However, his efforts individually have been falling short of the finishing line lately, and they need some inspiration from other players in the roster to turn around their current run of form.

Despite the recent slump, the side should take confidence and heart from how they performed in the opening half of the campaign.

But, whether that’s enough for them to override the impact caused by the missing players remains to be seen.

FC Goa

FC Goa can break quite a few records with the coming fixture. Firstly, they haven’t recorded a league double against Kerala Blasters FC since 2018-19.

Moreover, they are on a two-game winning run against Kerala Blasters FC at the moment, with the last time they got on a longer such stretch being when they won four straight clashes against the Kochi-based outfit from December 2017-February 2019.

The Gaurs have netted in each of their 18 ISL fixtures against Kerala Blasters FC, but they haven’t kept conductive clean sheets in front of them.

With that having already happened in December, does it suggest that the home side could put up a goal-fest for Manjappada?

However, what should worry the Gaurs instead is that they haven’t scored in each of their last two games.

They haven’t gone without finding the back of the net thrice consecutively in ISL history, and Sunday must mark the end of that for them to rediscover the lost touch that previously propelled them to the top.

Key players to look out for

Carl McHugh (FC Goa)

Carl McGugh has played a pivotal role from the centre for the success of FC Goa this season.

The midfielder shields the backline, breaks down attacks with ruthless efficiency, distributes the ball towards the flanks and across the field with his widespread vision, and is also a goal-scoring threat from set-pieces.

He has created 13 goal-scoring opportunities, averaged 51 passes per game at 76% accuracy and also made 12 interceptions this season.

He often tests his luck at goal, rushing ahead during corners and teasing the opposition particularly with his aerial prowess from corners.

McHugh has made two assists so far and he will have to deliver another all-round performance to help the Gaurs overcome the Kerala Blasters FC at home.

Rahul KP (Kerala Blasters FC)

The absence of Adrian Luna and Kwame Peprah has provided a fantastic chance to Rahul KP to showcase his mettle and in a way repaid the trust laid on him by the club.

He is yet to record a goal contribution across 12 appearances this season, but has netted seven times and assisted thrice in his ISL career spanning 63 matches.

Rahul has averaged 16 passes at 71% accuracy in this campaign and also won 13 aerial duels.

He has attempted 12 shots, created three goal-scoring opportunities and drawn four fouls in total.

The homegrown star will be hopeful of pulling off something special and taking his team out of the phase they find themselves embroiled in currently.

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Head-to-Head

Played - 19

Kerala Blasters FC - 4

FC Goa - 11

Draws - 4

Trivia: 58% of the goals scored by Kerala Blasters FC players have been from left foot in ISL 2023-24, which is the highest share amongst all teams.

ISL Fantasy

Jay Gupta (3.6cr)

Standout emerging star for FC Goa

Arshdeep Singh (3.6cr)

Has helped the Gaurs keep seven clean sheets this season

Milos Drincic (4.2cr)

Consistent contributions on both ends of the pitch

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Where to Watch

Fans across the country can catch the action in English, Hindi, Bengali, and Malayalam. Fans can watch the action on linear channels like Sports18 Khel (Hindi), Sports18 1 HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam), News 18 Kerala (Malayalam – select matches) & DD Bangla (Bengali). Fans can also catch the action streaming Live for free on JioCinema, the home of Indian football. In addition to this, as part of FSDL’s partnership with OneFootball, ISL live streams and highlights of all matches of the upcoming 2023-24 season will be delivered across more than 190 countries.