East Bengal vs Kerala Blasters: Preview and Prediction
The two teams have had contrasting fortunes in this season, which can be easily understood by looking at the points table.
East Bengal instilled hope among their fanbase after they made it all the way to the final of the Durand Cup, but it did not transpire into similar performances at the ISL. The Torchbearers have once again struggled in the team, and have picked up only four points from their first four games and are placed ninth in the standings.
On the other hand, Kerala Blasters had every reason to not get off to a good start. Their coach, Ivan Vukomanovic was suspended for the first four games, while many of their key players were injured. But the Tuskers have defied every obstacle on their course to pick up 10 points from their first five matches, which places them third on the points table.
What have they done so far?
East Bengal has had a pretty timid start to their season. In their first match, they could not beat a comparatively weaker opposition in Jamshedpur at home, settling for a 0-0 draw. But the performance was much better in the second game against Hyderabad, where the Torchbearers overturned a deficit to beat Hyderabad 2-1.
That win led many to the belief that the Kolkata giants will finally return to the top half of the points table, but the last two matches have shown why East Bengal still has a lot to improve in almost every department.
In their second match, the Kolkata giants took a lead against Bengaluru only to throw it away and succumb to a 1-2 defeat. One would have expected Carles Cuadrat’s players to learn from that loss, but they lost 1-2 to Goa in the exact same fashion.
Kerala Blasters’ start has been the complete opposite, as they defeated their arch-rivals Bengaluru by a 2-1 margin in the Southern Derby. Then in the second match, that performance was replicated as they pipped Jamshedpur 1-0.
The winning streak was halted in the third match, where up against a strong Mumbai City team, the Tuskers fought tooth and nail but had to go down in a 1-2 defeat. Struggling to shrug off the setback, they could only get a 1-1 draw against NorthEast United in their fourth match. But the return of Vukomanovic in the dugout changed Kerala Blasters’ fortune once again as they came back from a one-goal deficit to defeat Odisha 2-1.
Head to Head Record
There is not much to separate the two teams based on head-to-head records, except that the Tuskers are slightly ahead. Kerala Blasters and East Bengal have met on six occasions in the league, where the former has won two games, as opposed to the latter’s one win. The other three matches ended in draws.
That being said, East Bengal was victorious in the last meeting against Kerala Blasters, which took place back in February this year. Brazilian striker Cleiton Silva scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
Considering his team suffered their first defeat in the last match against Bengaluru, it will be understandable if Cuadrat makes quite a few changes to his team to avoid a second consecutive defeat on the trot.
After two consecutive defeats, it will make sense if Cuadrat makes wholesale changes to his team. The changes should start from the full-back position, as both Mohammad Rakip and Mandar Rao Dessai looked horrendous in the match against Goa.
In Rakip’s place, Harmanjot Singh Khabra could be deployed in the right-back position. The veteran, who played in midfield against the Gaurs, played as a right-back earlier this season and looked comfortable. Meanwhile, Mandar could be asked to make way for Nishu Kumar.
New signing, Hijazi Maher could be handed his debut at Jose Antonio Pardo’s expense. In the midfield, Souvik Chakraborty could pair up with Saul Crespo to form the double pivot. Lastly, Borja Herrera could return in the number 10 role with Silva starting as the lone striker, meaning Javier Siverio will have to drop down to the bench.
While Kerala Blasters got back to winning ways in their last game against Odisha, there is room for improvement in the team, which could tempt the Blasters head coach into making a couple of changes.
Diamantakos had a fantastic return as he scored the equalizer in the last match only a few minutes after coming on as a substitute. He is likely to be handed a start at the expense of Kwame Peprah. In midfield, Mohammed Azhar looked lively when he came on and the youngster could start ahead of Vibin Mohanan.
Predicted Starting XIs
East Bengal (4-2-3-1): Prabhsukhan Gill; Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Lalchungnunga, Hijazi Maher, Nishu Kumar; Saul Crespo, Souvik Chakraborty; Nandhakumar Sekar, Borja Herrera, Naorem Mahesh Singh; Cleiton Silva.
Kerala Blasters (4-4-2): Sachin Suresh; Sandeep Singh, Pritam Kotal, Hormipam Ruivah, Naocha Huidrom Singh; Rahul KP, Mohammed Azhar, Danish Farooq, Daisuke Sakai; Adrian Luna, Dimitrios Diamantakos.
Though the match will be played in Kolkata, Kerala Blasters will start the game as favourites. Not only have they had a better start and will hence have momentum on their side, but the Tuskers also have a psychological edge because of a superior head-to-head record.