Kerala Blasters vs Hyderabad: Preview and Prediction
The final league game of the ongoing Indian Super League season will see Kerala Blasters host Hyderabad at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday as both sides look to finish their campaign on a high.
With both sides already through to the playoffs, it’s all about trying to go into the knockouts with a winning momentum. Last year’s defending champions, the Nizams are already guaranteed a second-place finish thus they won’t feature in the playoffs having qualified directly into the second semi-final.
The Blasters though still have a small task in hand, and that will be to finish as high as possible. Ivan Vukomanovic’s men are currently in fifth place in the standings, with 31 points. Only 4 points separate third-placed Bengaluru from sixth-placed Odisha.
The team which will finish third will play the sixth-ranked side as per the format of the playoffs, so that’s what the Kochi-based club will be looking to do, although they face a stern test in Manolo Marquez’s men. In a way, it’s a good dress rehearsal for both clubs considering the challenges that lie ahead.
Since both teams have qualified for the playoffs so more or less they did well in the league so far, however, since confirming their place in the knockouts, the Tuskers have lost both their games.
First, they dropped points against the Mighty Blues following a 1-0 defeat, while ATK Mohun Bagan prevailed 2-1 at the Salt Lake. The Blasters’ recent form has been very patchy, with two wins and three defeats in their last five outings. The two most likely opponents for them in playoffs will be either the Mariners or the Juggernauts, and neither of these teams has been very impressive of late.
Similarly, Marquez’s side also has won just two of their last five games. They come into this fixture on the back of a 3-2 defeat against Jamshedpur. The Nizams will have the advantage of some extra rest days since they will be playing directly in the two-legged semifinals. Their coach will hope to make full use of that, and as usual, the defending champs will rely on their water-tight defence to see them through into the summit clash on March 18.
Talking about the past record of these two clubs, they have squared off on 8 occasions previously in the league, with both sides having 4 games each. Thus, even though the last league outing of the campaign might seem like a dead rubber, there will be a score to settle.
Coming into this game, the Nizams have nothing to lose so coach Marquez might try a few combinations but then there’s the argument of why changing something that’s not broken. He did make plenty of changes to the team which took to the field against the Men of Steel, although it might have been to give some rest to his tried and tested playing XI, which should ideally be back on Sunday.
Gurmeet Singh Chahal is likely to reclaim his place in goal while Nikhil Poojari and Odei Onaindia are likely to return to the starting XI alongside Chinglensana Singh and Akash Mishra. Borja Herrera’s partner Hitesh Sharma should also be back, while Mohammad Yasir and Halicharan Narzary should also be back to partner Joel Chianese and provide service to Javier Siverio.
As far as the Blasters are concerned, Vukomanovic made just two changes to his side for the most recent defeat. Sahal Abdul Samad was replaced by Bryce Miranda while Apostolos Giannou came in for Adrian Luna. Rahul KP picked up a red card so he won’t be available for selection.
Prabhsukhan Singh Gill will start in goal, behind the back four of Nishu Kumar, Hormipam Ruivah, Victor Mongil, and Jessel Carneiro. Miranda and Sahal are likely to start on the flanks, with Ivan Kalyuzhnyi and Jeakson Singh in the engine room. Dimitrios Diamantakos is a certain starter and he could be joined by Luna.
Predicted Starting XIs
Kerala Blasters (4-4-2): Prabhsukhan Singh Gill; Nishu Kumar, Hormipam Ruivah, Victor Mongil, Jessel Carneiro; Bryce Miranda, Ivan Kalyuzhnyi, Jeakson Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad; Dimitrios Diamantakos, Adrian Luna.
Hyderabad (4-2-3-1): Gurmeet Singh Chahal; Nikhil Poojari, Odei Onaindia; Chinglensana Singh, Akash Mishra; Borja Herrera, Hitesh Sharma; Mohammad Yasir, Joel Chianese, Halicharan Narzary; Javier Siverio.
While both sides have struggled of late, the Nizams will fancy their chances to take away all three points, although the Blasters will be at their fortress, and it is never easy for any side to travel to Kochi given the atmosphere there. Thus, a draw seems like the most likely conclusion.