Match 7 Preview: NorthEast United FC, Kerala Blasters FC aim to bounce back


NorthEast United FC will lock horns with Kerala Blasters FC in their second round fixture in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, on Thursday.

The Highlanders were beaten 2-4 by Bengaluru FC last week, while the Blasters went down with an identical scoreline by ATK Mohun Bagan in the season opener.

With everything to play for, expect a riveting contest when both sides take the field.

Form Guide

NorthEast United FC

The Highlanders have won twice, lost twice and drawn the other in their last five competitive matches, which also includes the semi-finals last season. However, the team have ended up on the winning side on majority of the occasions since Khalid Jamil took over the head coach position last season.

Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters FC are winless in their last nine ISL matches, having lost four and shared the spoils in a similar number of matches. The last time Blasters won a game was in January, earlier this year against Bengaluru FC, leaving aside the 2021 Durand Cup appearance, where they fielded a second string team.

Head to Head

Both the sides have faced each other 14 times in the past, with Kerala Blasters FC having an edge, winning five matches overall, compared to NorthEast United FC’s four. The remaining five matches have ended as draws. However, in the last five matches, the Highlanders have won once, while the teams have shared the spoils in the remaining four games.

Team News

NorthEast United FC

Sticking to Khalid Jamil after last year’s late resurgence in the ISL, NorthEast United FC were hoping for a bright start to the new season, however, they were beaten convincingly in the first game. The Indian manager was brave enough to field an all-Indian back four, with their lone overseas stopper Patrick Flottman, not even in the line-up. Having conceded four goals (one own goal) in the process, it might not be a full-proof plan afterall.

The midfield looked more compact, with the likes of Hernan Santana and veteran Khassa Camara doing a decent job. However, Laldanmawia Ralte and Sehnaj Singh need to accelerate to match the overseas players in the playmaking zone. Meanwhile, Deshorn Brown and Mathias Courier were on the money for the Highlanders in the attacking zone, with them scoring once each in the previous match.

Having perceived all of their shortcomings in the opening game, Jamil would be more sure-footed when his boys take the field against Kerala Blasters FC. Moreover, the Tuskers are not as settled as Bengaluru FC were, which gives the Highlanders the perfect opportunity to pounce on and go all in for a win.

Kerala Blasters FC

Much was expected from the new-look Kerala Blasters FC side this season. In spite of the loss to title contenders ATK Mohun Bagan, the Blasters took away a lot of positives from the game. Uruguayan midfielder Adrian Luna was by far their pick so far, with the footballer maintaining the flow of the game throughout and also providing the assist for the second goal. However, lack of support for him could prove consequential if the Indian players do not step-up.

Sahal Abdul Samad scored a peach of a goal in the season opener, but he was nowhere near to what he’s capable of. Meanwhile, Rahul KP will miss out on the next game after he suffered a groin injury during the ATK Mohun Bagan tie, which also raises concern. Alavaro Vazquez, who created quite a buzz ahead of the game, displayed sparks of brilliance up-front, but failed to convert. Jorge Pereyra Diaz, who netted the second one, will look to take his game to the next level.

Ivan Vukomanovic’s biggest concern remains the back-line, with them conceding goals from schoolboy errors in the previous game. In spite of slip-ups, Bijoy Varghese played decent football alongside Marko Leskovic in the centre-back position. Harmanjot Khabra and Jessel Carneiro, vested with the responsibility to make overlaps and keep the wings flowing, have failed so far.

The coach is pleased with an almost clean bill of health.

“The good thing is that everybody is available now except Rahul [KP] who got injured. We can have only four foreign players on the pitch at the same moment so we'll find a quite good recipe for tomorrow. We have all six of them available. Of course, they know the situation, everybody knows the situation, we are pleased with the improvement of some young boys,” he said ahead of the game.

Key Players

Kerala Blasters FC

Sahal Abdul Samad

Of what we’ve seen of him in the first game, the footballer is yet to unleash his full potential, in spite of the sensational goal he scored. Known for his nimble footwork, the Indian footballer is the perfect candidate for providing support to the experienced Luna in the midfield. With Rahul KP set to miss out on the next game, Sahal’s contribution to the build-up will prove consequential for Kerala Blasters FC.

Adrian Luna

Arguably, the best player for Kerala Blasters FC in the opening game, having been a livewire throughout, also providing an assist in the process. Luna’s understanding with the strikers was clearly visible in the previous game. With nine crosses and a total of 66 passes at an accuracy of almost 70%, the former A-League star is the man to watch out for in the upcoming game.

NorthEast United FC

VP Suhair

One of the most experienced Indian players in the squad, VP Suhair was instrumental in NorthEast United FC’s run to the semi-finals last season. However, the winger, despite providing an assist looked out of form in the previous game and was subbed-off in the 65th minute. Going by his reputation and Jamil’s faith in him, we can expect Suhair to get another start in the upcoming game. The footballer might have had an average game last time, but he is still a player who can make a huge difference.

Deshorn Brown

The striker already made a statement last season when he helped the Highlanders reach the  last-four stage after a switch from Bengaluru FC. Having started from where he left in the previous term, Brown registered a goal in the opening game against his former side. Apart from which, he always looked threatening in the final third and made life hard for the defenders. No doubt, he’s the marksman for Jamil’s side in the upcoming game.

Key Stats

Jinx at the stadium: Kerala Blasters FC have played a total of 11 matches at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Margao, having won only one match. In the previous season, they played here four times, losing thrice and sharing points in the remaining fixture.

NorthEast United set to buck the trend: The Highlanders are unbeaten in their last six matches against the Tuskers. The last time that the Kerala-based club won against their ISL rivals was back in February 2018, edging past by a solitary goal from Wes Brown.

Deshorn Brown to lead the attack: The Jamaican striker has been exceptional since joining NorthEast United FC, having scored six goals in 11 matches played so far. Only Roy Krishna (9) and Igor Angulo (7), have scored more goals in the same time frame.

Match Timings and Telecast Details

Match: NorthEast United FC vs Kerala Blasters FC

Date: 25th November

Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Margao

Kick-off time: 7.30 pm

Telecast: Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD, Star Sports 3, Hindi Commentary on Star Sports 1 Hindi, Star Sports 1 Hindi HD, Star Sports 1 regional channels - Tamil, Bengali, Kannada, Telugu

Online Streaming: Disney+Hotstar and JioTV.

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