Kerala Blasters FC will tour to the national capital to take on Punjab FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi as two teams from either halves of the table gear up for a gripping contest in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-23 on Thursday, 14 December, .

Punjab FC have now gone the longest without securing a maiden win for any club in ISL history. Their tally of five points after nine games is the joint-lowest (Hyderabad FC in 2019-20) secured by any team at this stage of the competition in their inaugural season in the competition.

However, it must be noted that they have drawn more times than they have lost so far. The first year in the top-tier was never going to be a cakewalk for the Staikos Vergetis-coached side. But, they have managed to come on terms, on par with much superior sides in the last few months. What they have been lacking is the finishing touch, the decisive instinct that gets them over the finishing line.

Such elements are usually discovered as a team gets settled and acquainted with the regular rigours of the ISL. All Punjab FC have to do at this moment is just stick by the processes, identify loopholes, consciously work on them, and not get bogged down by reputations, especially on their home turf.

Kerala Blasters faced a 1-0 loss to FC Goa in a top-of-the-table clash in their previous match, and that was preceded by a highly-entertaining 3-3 draw with Chennaiyin FC. The last two results have gotten them three points behind league leaders, the Gaurs, having played an additional game as compared to the Manolo Marquez-coached unit. Until their paths meet again, the Kerala Blasters should strive to bridge the gap between them and FC Goa and not drop any more points going forward.

What’s at stake?

Punjab FC

In all fairness, a victory for Punjab FC should be around the corner now. They have set themselves up nicely with three successive draws, against Hyderabad FC, Bengaluru FC, and East Bengal FC respectively. The 5-1 defeat to Chennaiyin FC did not take a dent in their confidence, as Vergetis brushed that aside and put the focus back on the larger picture for the team to march ahead with assurance.

They need to solidify their backline, having given away 16 goals, which is the second-most by any side after nine games in their first ISL season (after Hyderabad FC in 2019-20). Their style of play has been rather fleet-footed, with a host of players like Juan Mera and Luka Majcen who can run circles around the opposition’s defence.

They have earned 13.1 fouls per game in the campaign thus far, which is the outright most by any team in the league. Vergetis could perhaps refine their set-piece skillset, optimising the aerial strength in their unit to capitalise upon potential goal-scoring opportunities. Concentrated work on certain specific areas in addition to some neat defensive output can work wonders for their current run of form.

Watch the highlights from Punjab FC’s last match here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A15RG8G3Ckw&list=PLOYZ2vtgYzTJA68YydvwemFr8V_r07M5S&index=2

Kerala Blasters FC

The Kerala Blasters gave a close fight to FC Goa at the Fatorda, but the win on the road against the team of the tournament eluded them. Kerala Blasters FC have been one of the most thoroughly entertaining units in the league, with their dynamic forwards such as Dimitrios Diamantakos, Adrian Luna, Kwame Peprah, along with India stars like Danish Farooq and Pritam Kotal contributing significantly to their success so far.

They have picked up 17 points so far, which is the second-most by them after these many games in any ISL season (18 in 2022-23). Strong starts have been central to their success, netting four times in the opening 15 minutes of their matches so far.

Moreover, their tendency to begin games on the frontfoot has ensured that they haven’t given away any goal in that phase of the match thus far. However, a failure to keep clean sheets in their last 10 away games meant that they always have the obligation to elevate their gameplay on the front, which is a tough task in the home of the opposition. Whether they address these concerns in the forthcoming fixture remains to be seen.

Watch the highlights from Kerala Blaster FC’s last match here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hyPvaYJuWM&list=PLOYZ2vtgYzTJA68YydvwemFr8V_r07M5S&index=7

Key Players

Luka Majcen (Punjab FC)

With three strikes in nine games, Luka Majcen has shown that he has different tricks up his sleeve to keep finding the back of the net on a regular basis. The Slovenian striker has a formidable presence upfront, always keeping the opposition’s backline on their toes. He is someone they need to be wary of inside the box, but Majcen has an equally powerful shot that he can unleash from outside of the box to notch a goal.

The striker wins 1.33 aerial duels per game, wins 2.44 fouls on an average in every match, and has also created nine goal-scoring chances in as many encounters as well. With 15 passes every 90 minutes, he takes an effort in dropping back, getting his wingers in play and thereby simultaneously taking the entire frontline forward. Punjab FC have unleashed their attacking prowess in a relatively greater capacity lately, and Majcen will be the key in converting the chances that come their way.

Pritam Kotal (Kerala Blasters FC)

The 30-year-old defensive mainstay has settled seamlessly in the plans of Kerala Blasters FC. He has made 1.8 interceptions and clearances each per game, coupled with maintaining a 76% passing accuracy. Pritam Kotal is well acquainted with all that the ISL has to offer, and hence he must not have many difficulties in encountering the difficulties that Punjab FC presents to the Kerala Blasters.

He will be crucial in being the leader at the back, regularly communicating with his teammates, keeping things neat on the right flank, and making the occasional forward foray to help discover newer avenues of pegging the Punjab FC backline behind. As mentioned above, Kerala Blasters are on a long clean sheet drought on the road in the ISL. They will want to bring curtains down to that rather unfortunate record, and Kotal will play a pivotal role if they are to do so.

Read More

Head-to-Head

This will be the first ISL fixture between the two sides.

Trivia: Kerala Blasters FC have failed to record a win in each of their last seven meetings with a new side in the competition (D4 L3), with their last such win coming against FC Goa (November 6, 2014).

Team Talk

“We have to execute with discipline all the concepts that we have prepared for this game. I am very happy seeing my players being more effective in the plans and we should look to continue the same,” Punjab FC head coach Staikos Vergetis mentioned prior to the match.

“We’ve started the tournament well. We want to play offensive football, create chances, score goals. When we played against Goa, they were a very experienced team who conceded only three goals, so when you don’t create a lot of chances you need to score at the right moment,” Kerala Blasters FC assistant coach Frank Dauwen said in the pre-match press conference.

ISL Fantasy

Adrian Luna (10.3cr)

Three goals and four assists in nine games so far

Sachin Suresh (4.1cr)

23 saves in nine matches for the goalkeeper

Krishnananda Singh (3.8cr)

Constant goal-scoring threat from the Punjab FC unit

If not registered already, fans can participate in the overall league or club-based leagues based on their preferences. Create private leagues, inviting friends and fellow football aficionados to compete. Prizes include a Sony PlayStation®️5 gaming console, EA Sports FC 24, signed club merchandise, and a Gift Card worth INR 20,000, which will be awarded to 100 winners at the end of the season. Sign up at: https://fantasy.indiansuperleague.com/

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.