Bengaluru vs Kerala Blasters: Preview and Prediction
The Durand Cup 2023 group stage is nearing the business end of the campaign and the race for the quarter-final berths is heating up. Chennaiyin recently became the first team to secure their birth in the last eight. Having played just a solitary match each, defending champions Bengaluru and Kerala Blasters come face to face to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stages.
The two Indian Super League heavyweights are set to lock horns in a high-octane Group C clash at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Friday in the evening fixture.
In their opening game, the Blues started their title defence with a 1-1 draw against Indian Air Force on Monday, with debutant Salam helping coach Bibiano Fernandes’ side steal a point after they were pegged back early by a goal from Vivek.
On the other hand, Ivan Vukomanovic’s side suffered a 4-3 defeat to Gokulam Kerala as Justine Emmanuel, Prabir Das, and Adrian Luna were on the scoresheet but they couldn’t complete a comeback against the Malabarians. The I-league side is sitting pretty atop the group with two wins from as many games. In their remaining two games, the Blasters need two wins or things could get complicated and they might have to rely on results elsewhere.
Talking about the current form of the two ISL-based clubs, the Tuskers have no points to show from their solitary outing in the Durand Cup so far, whereas the Blues have 1 point after their stalemate.
Bibiano’s side will lock horns against table toppers Gokulam after their meeting with the Blasters and they will have to win both the remaining matches to seal a place in the next round. Having left out all of the senior players from their Durand Cup squad it remains to be seen whether they will go with the same team against the club from Kochi.
Even a win and a draw in the upcoming games could see the club from Bengaluru progress into the next round as one of the best second-placed teams in the competition but that could be a risky move.
The equation is pretty much the same for Vukomanovic’s side who will feel hard done by after a spirited performance against their local rivals. To add more spice to the Southern derby, the Tuskers know only two wins from their remaining two games against the Blues and the Indian Air Force will see them advance as they will only be able to go level on points with Gokulam.
Thus, the three-time ISL finalists need the I-league side to drop points against Bengaluru, to have an outside chance of topping Group C, but they will need to win their matches to hope for that to happen. All things considered, their match against Fernandes’ unit will be a do-or-die fixture for the Tuskers.
These two clubs have met each other 13 times in the ISL before, the Yellow Army have won just 3 matches while their fellow Southern rivals have claimed 8 wins.
Two games finished all square and in fact, it was the Blues who claimed a narrow 1-0 win over their opponents in the last meeting between these sides in March. It was a controversial game where Vukomanovic’s side walked off the pitch after a quickly taken extra-time strike from Sunil Chhetri.
The defending champions of the Durand Cup began their campaign without any of the senior players as they didn’t name any of their star players for the tournament. Parag Shrivas is expected to continue leading the side which comprises mostly of young players, and notably no overseas players are in the squad.
Bibiano named four debutants in the lineup for their opening group game, and a similar-looking side is expected to take to the field once again on Friday.
On the other hand, Vukomanovic will be fielding his strongest possible XI, new signing Pritam Kotal made his debut alongside Prabir Das, Naocha Singh, and Justine. Thus, the Blues are likely to fight it out with a strong-looking Blasters team.
Jaushua Sotirio remains the only long-term absentee for the Tuskers through injury. Their regular first-team stars such as Rahul KP and Dimitrios Diamantakos among others started from the bench in the previous game and they could come into the starting XI for the Southern derby.
Predicted Starting XIs
Bengaluru FC (4-3-3): Sahil Poonia; Robin Yadav, Parag Shrivas ©, Shankar Sampingraj, Thokchom Malemngamba Singh; Harsh Patre, Bekey Oram, Shreyas Ketkar; Edmund Lalrindika, Ashish Jha, Salam Johnson Singh.
Kerala Blasters (4-3-3): Sachin Suresh; Pritam Kotal, Hormipam Ruivah, Marko Leskovic, Prabir Das; Jeakson Singh, Mohammed Azhar, Mohammed Aimen; Adrián Luna ©, Rahul KP, Dimitrios Diamantakos.
Given the obvious difference in the bench strength between the two teams, Vukomanovic’s side will certainly be the favourites to win the game and clinch all three points. Bibiano’s men did play out a draw in their opening game but the Blasters will be a different level of competition altogether.