Kerala Blasters vs Gokulam Kerala: Preview and Prediction
As the caravan of the 2023 Durand Cup moves towards the end of the second week, it is now time for the season’s first Kerala Derby clash to take place. It will be an intriguing clash between the two of the biggest football entities from God’s Own Country, Kerala Blasters and Gokulam Kerala. The Group C fixture of Asia’s oldest football competition will be hosted by the Mohun Bagan Ground of Kolkata which will also be the first game of the 132nd edition at this venue.
The Tuskers sent their developmental squad in the previous edition of Durand Cup and the young boys had an eventful campaign making it to the knockout stages. However, the Kochi-based club is set to field a full-strength squad while keeping the preparations for the upcoming 2023-24 Indian Super League season in mind. The Blasters’ trophy cabinet is still empty after nine years since its inception as the gaffer Ivan Vukonamovic must be eyeing the prestigious silverware for the maiden glory.
The 129th edition of the Durand Cup was a crucial event for the Kozhikode-based outfit as they went on to win their maiden national-level club trophy in that tournament. The champions of the 2019 season could not qualify for the penultimate round in their title-defense campaign and decided not to participate in the following season. This is going to be the first assignment for the Gokulam head coach Domingo Oramas who seems to be very confident in their chances to replicate the prowess.
The Blasters kick-started their preseason campaign with a friendly fixture at their training ground where they hammered the local opponents Maharaja’s College by 8-0. Their next and final preparatory game before the Durand Cup action resulted in a convincing 5-0 triumph over Kovalam on Tuesday. The 20-year-old Nigerian winger Emmanuel Justine bagged a brace in the victory while the domestic stars Jeakson Singh, Nihal Sudeesh, and Muhammad Ajsal graced the scoresheet with a goal each.
The Malabarians suffered a hard-fought 0-1 loss at the hands of the Kerala Police side in their only practice game before boarding the Kolkata flight. However, the defeat did not affect the high-spirited Gokulam roster that went on to win their first Durand Cup clash with the Indian Air Force in a compelling manner. The 22-year-old Sourav’s opening goal in the 35th minute and a 67th-minute long-ranging strike from Sreekuttan VS made vital contributions in the 2-0 saga at Kishore Bharati Krirangan.
The Blasters have been plying their trade in the Indian Super League as founding members since the inaugural season and hold the honor of being the only Kerala-based club in the league. Meanwhile, GKFC which was founded three years later in 2017 emerged as the most successful I-League outfit having won two championships but is still yet to make it to the Indian top-flight league. Hence, both neighborhood clubs’ paths never came across till now and the upcoming clash will be the first encounter between these two combatants in a major competition.
Both of the clubs represent two different regions of Kerala where this sport is rigorously followed and these sides have established themselves as the footballing fortresses. The Tuskers are based in Kerala’s commercial capital city Kochi while the Maroons represent the entire Malabar region of the state at the national and international levels. Therefore, the passionate followers of both of these often quarrel against each other on social media platforms to prove the supremacy of their club in the football-devoted state.
Kerala Blasters recently announced the much-awaited arrival of Ishan Pandita into the Manjappada camp which will be the third Indian destination of the New Delhi-born striker. The club also confirmed that Durand Cup will be the first assignment for the 25-year-old for the Tuskers and he has already joined the participating roster. The Bengali duo Pritam Kotal and Prabir Das are expected to make their debuts in Yellow and Blues colors leading the defense department in a high-profile clash.
Gokulam enjoyed a fruitful outcome in the opening fixture against the Indian Armed Force opponent and is unlikely to make many changes to the winning combination. We also witnessed a leadership change in the Malabarian roster in the new reign of the Spanish gaffer Mingo Oramas as Alex Sanchez was seen leading the team onto the battlefield in place of Aminou Bouba. Sreekuttan who netted a stunning goal will be hoping to feature in the Gokulam forward line and impressed everyone with his extended cameo appearance.
Predicted Starting XIs
Kerala Blasters (3-4-3): Karanjit Singh; Pritam Kotal, Marko Leskovic, Hormipam Ruivah; Prabir Das, Jeakson Singh, Danish Farooq, Vibin Mohanan; Rahul KP, Dimitrios Diamantakos, Adrian Luna ©
Gokulam Kerala (4-4-2): Zothanmawia Pachuau; Sourabh Meher, Aminou Bouba, Vikas Singh Saini, Akhil Praveen; Noufal PN, Rahul Raju, Sourav K, Basit Ahmed Bhat; Nili Perdomo Alex Sanchez ©
The track record of the Durand Cup favors the contention for the Maroon Battalion to emerge victorious in this contest. However, the Tuskers’ star power cannot be matched by the Malabarians when it comes to on-paper strength owing to the many high-profile faces available in their squad. Therefore, we will get to see a thrilling Kerala Derby clash where the Yellow and Blues have slightly brighter chances to capture three crucial points.