Kerala Blasters vs Bengaluru: Preview and Prediction
Asia’s one of the most widely supported clubs Kerala Blasters will be summoned by the finalists of the previous season, Bengaluru. The inaugural fixture of the tenth edition will be hosted by Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium this Thursday.
After a heartbreaking exit from the previous season, the Manjappada Army is counting on their Yellow Knights to exact revenge and claim their maiden ISL trophy. The Blasters finished the 2022-23 league stages in the fifth position and qualified for the playoffs for the second successive season but were eventually eliminated from the Championship race by BFC.
Meanwhile, the fans witnessed an unforgettable turnaround by the Blues who were among the bottom three after Match Day 12 and still went on to make it to the championship finals. Skipper Chhetri and his boys couldn’t bring a befitting end to a fairy-tale journey of Simon Grayson’s maiden ISL campaign but they will have another chance to fulfil the wishes of their diligent English head coach.
Before stepping up for the ISL challenge, BFC graced Asia’s oldest existing football competition Durand Cup in August 2023 as the defending champions. They were drafted in Group C along with the former champions Gokulam Kerala, Kerala Blasters, and Indian Air Force.
However, the Blues couldn’t perform up to the expectations of West Block Blues and finished second behind the Malabarians in group stages with only a single win from three games.
On the other hand, the Yellow and Blues headed to the Hala Blasters Tour in UAE to take on top Emirati sides for pre-season friendlies after failing to make it to the knockouts of the Durand Cup.
The Tuskers showcased a lot of improvements in their opening fixture but still eventually suffered a 0-6 defeat at the hands of Al Wasl. The losing outcome did not affect the spirited KBFC roster as they went on to register two consecutive friendly wins including a 2-1 triumph over the UAE Pro League outfit Sharjah.
These two neighboring clubs are regarded as pillars of South Indian Football and have been battling against each other for the Southern Supremacy for yearsDespite getting the promotion to the ISL three years after its inception, Bengaluru still had a comparatively better record in the Indian top-flight league than their counterparts.
The Namma Blues currently stand with eight wins in this rivalry while the Tuskers have managed to emerge victorious only thrice in 13 southern clashes.
In the previous season, the Blasters’ emphatic 3-2 triumph in the first face-off of the season was avenged by Bengaluru in the returning fixture at Kanteerava Stadium. However, these two southern combatants once again faced each other at the Karnataka capital city for the first knockout encounter.
A controversial decision by the referee Crystal John to allow the 97th-minute winning goal of Sunil Chhetri provoked Kerala gaffer Ivan Vukomanovic and his boys to leave the battlefield and forfeit the game.
Ivan Vukomanovic’s 10-match ban for forfeiting the ISL knockout clash continues as he will be serving it for the remaining four games. The responsibility to guide the Yellow and Blues from the sidelines will be upon the assistant coaches duo of Frank Dauwen and TG Purushothaman. The only injured player for KBFC in this forthcoming clash is the Australian forward Jaushua Sotirio who underwent ankle surgery in July and won’t be back on field before 2024.
The assailant right-back Prabir Das who was previously a part of the Blues camp is likely to make his ISL debut in Yellow colors against his former club. As the Indian national team will be concurrently participating in the Hangzhou Asian Games, Rahul KP and Bryce Miranda will miss Kerala’s first three fixtures while serving national duty.
Simon Grayson is preparing to launch a full-fledged attack on the neighbors having no worries about injuries as all his players are fresh and fit for the action. The Blues have allowed skipper Sunil Chhetri to lead the nation at the Asian Games but held Gurpreet Singh Sandhu from joining the Indian U-23 contingent as one of the three elite players.
Predicted Starting XIs
Kerala Blasters (4-4-2): Sachin Suresh; Prabir Das, Pritam Kotal, Marko Leskovic, Aiban Dohling; Nihal Sudeesh, Jeakson Singh, Danish Farooq, Daisuke Sakai; Adrian Luna ©, Dimitrios Diamantakos
Bengaluru (3-5-2): Gurpreet Singh Sandhu ©; Parag Shrivas, Slavko Damjanovic, Keziah Veendorp; Naorem Roshan Singh, Javi Hernandez, Rohit Kumar, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Jessel Carneiro; Curtis Main, Sivasakthi Narayanan
Both teams are equally strong on paper and their managers are also acquainted with strengths and weaknesses of each other. However, Kerala Blasters still stand with brighter chances to win this contest after having better pre-season and home advantage in their favor as the Manjappada has also urged the Tuskers to avenge their elimination.
Meanwhile, the Blues may adopt a defensive approach to commence their ISL campaign as the absence of the legendary striker Sunil Chhetri has already weakened the offensive unit.