Mohun Bagan Super Giant will be gearing up for a crucial encounter at home as they take on in-form Kerala Blasters FC at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 on December 27, Wednesday. The Mariners find themselves in a precarious position after nine games, having suffered consecutive defeats against their nearest competitors in the last couple of matches.

The streak began with a gruelling 2-1 defeat at the home of Mumbai City FC, before FC Goa had a strong outing against them, wrapping up a 4-1 victory in their own backyard. Juan Ferrando will need to go back to the drawing board to do a lot of searching as a spate of injuries and the absence of key players give him a truncated squad to work with.

The club made a remarkable investment to strengthen the squad with the acquisition of multiple top-tier international and domestic players to further their ambitions at both the country as well as the continental level. The latter came crashing down with their group-stage exit from the AFC Cup, but Ferrando has to salvage pride by competing for the topmost honours in all competitions at home. On the other hand, there is a Kerala Blasters FC unit that seems eager to bring an end to their wait for the silverware this season.

The Ivan Vukomanovic-coached side has brushed aside concerns over the injury of skipper Adrian Luna with other senior and also inexperienced stars assuming responsibility and delivering the goods consistently against other teams. They swept aside Mumbai City FC by a 2-0 margin in the previous match, but can they replicate those heroics on the road too?

What’s at stake?

Mohun Bagan Super Giant

At stake for the Mariners is the chance to break this unwanted losing streak and get on top of the team that is placed just a place above them in the points table at the moment. They could not have come up against a better opposition to do so though, as their unbeaten record against Kerala Blasters FC is something that Ferrando would want to hold dear to after this game. Kerala Blasters FC have lost five times and drawn once in their six matches against the Mariners in the ISL. In fact, the Kochi-based club are amongst the three teams including Odisha FC and East Bengal FC that are yet to defeat the Mariners in the ISL.

The quality of the MBSG squad is such that they manage to come out triumphant more often than not. Despite the spate of injuries in this campaign, they have scored 19 goals from an expected goals (xG) tally of 12.56 this season, with the Mariners’ xG differential of +6.44 being the highest of all teams in the competition. Ferrando will want for all that to come to the fore in this game.

Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters FC are on a roll after their clinical 2-0 win against Mumbai City FC even with the absence of captain Adrian Luna. They showed no signs of rustiness as the forwards stepped up and unleashed their impeccable potential with Dimitrios Diamantakos and Kwame Peprah scoring and setting a goal each, in addition to a brilliant defensive performance. The clean sheets would come as a relief for Vukomanovic, as the team has not conceded a goal in their previous two matches and the last time they went on a longer stretch was of three games in December 2014.

The Mariners aren’t the ideal opposition to seal that feat though, as the home team has scored a goal in each of their last 10 matches in the top-tier. In fact, the depth of Ferrando’s squad allows him to introduce quality substitutes and that has resulted in them scoring 10 goals in the second half of matches this season.

Key Players

Hector Yuste (Mohun Bagan Super Giant)

The Spanish midfielder has been a valuable resource at the centre of the park for the Mohun Bagan Super Giant. He has recorded nearly one interception, 1.3 tackles, and 3.5 clearances per game, whilst playing an average of 47 passes per game at an accuracy of 87%. Yuste has also notched an assist and will play a crucial role in helping the Mariners win the faceoff in the midfield against the Kerala Blasters FC. Not only will he be tasked with breaking the waves of attacks from the opposition, but Yuste will also have to keep playing forward constantly passes to set the tempo of the proceedings. He can chip into the box during set-pieces as well and is an all-round package whose potential has not been optimally unleashed in the ISL thus far. Ferrando will be banking on him to have a cracker of a second half of the season to help the team realise their ambitions in the ISL.

Prabir Das (Kerala Blasters FC)

Prabir Das is someone who has played every season of the ISL so far and that experience is reflected in the solid addition that he has become to the Kerala Blasters FC defensive unit this year. In six appearances, he has made five tackles, 10 interceptions, and 14 clearances, in addition to making a couple of goal-scoring chances to round off a formidable run for the outfit this campaign. His pairing with Pritam Kotal gives assurance to the backline, which helps the midfielders explore opportunities upfront without being overly concerned about leaving the defence exposed. Das can fill in various roles at the back, and his versatility coupled with efficiency in carrying out the required tasks make him a valuable asset to any team.

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Head-to-Head

Played – 6

Mohun Bagan Super Giant – 5

Kerala Blasters FC – 0

Draws – 1

Trivia: Pritam Kotal has made 23 interceptions in the current ISL season, the highest for any player in the competition.

Team Talk

“We continue with the same situation. Ashish and Yuste can play now. The team is the most important thing for me. We are ready for the next match. We are thinking of the best line-up, who’s fit, and about getting the three points,” Mohun Bagan Super Giant head coach Juan Ferrando said.

“We have a great group of players, great characters, we have stuck together with team spirit and by fighting for each other. It’s nice to be at the top though we have played more games than FC Goa, who are more consistent with victories and their defensive work I’d say,” Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic said in the pre-match press conference.

ISL Fantasy

Hector Yuste (3.6cr)

One assist so far in ISL 2023-24

Asish Rai (4.6cr)

A consistent performer at the back for the Mariners

Dimitrios Diamatankos (8.4cr)

Six goals so far in this season

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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 SD & HD (English), Sports18 3 SD (English, Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali), VH1 SD & HD (English), Surya Movies (Malayalam) & DD Bangla (Bengali). 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.