NorthEast United FC's head coach Juan Pedro Benali anticipates a challenging match in their upcoming showdown against Kerala Blasters FC in Matchweek 4 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023–24 season at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi,  on Saturday.

NorthEast United FC has had a promising start to the season, securing four points in their first three matches. Led by the seasoned Spanish head coach Benali and bolstered by a roster of talented players, the Highlanders aim to continue their unbeaten run after their initial setback against Mumbai City FC.

In their recent encounters, NorthEast United FC has faced three consecutive defeats against Kerala Blasters FC. They are determined to reverse this trend when they face the Yellow Army, who have also won two of their initial three matches. However, Kerala Blasters FC will be without Marko Leskovic, Milos Drincic, and Jeakson Singh, though Benali acknowledges their formidable qualities.

“Well, whatever we say about Kerala Blasters FC, it will be less. It's a big team. The team is stable for the last three years, a team that plays good football. You can see the last games they had in ISL. I think they deserved better (even) in the last game against Mumbai City FC. It's a strong team. Even if they have some players injured and suspended, there will be others who come in. They will also be strong. As I said, a very stable team,” Benali stated in the pre-match press conference.

“It will be a tough game, but very nice. Beautiful game. I hope with a nice public will be a nice evening to be in,” he added.

Notably, NorthEast United FC has not secured a win at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi since the inception of the league. One could argue that the fervent fan support has contributed to Kerala Blasters FC's successes against the Highlanders on their home turf. However, Benali emphasised that the upcoming result will depend on their performance against the Blasters, regardless of the support from the opposing side.

“No, we don't play against the fans. We're happy to have the fans. I hope there are only eleven players on the field, not more now. It's great to have fans. I hope all the stadiums will be like this one. Full of fans, full of supporters supporting their team,” the Spaniard said.

We play against eleven players. We don't play against the supporters. The supporters, they are here to support the team, which is their right. We hope we give them a good show,” he concluded.