Kerala Blasters FC to face Mumbai City FC in ISL

Kochi, Dec 23 (UNI) Mumbai City FC travels to Kochi to square off against Kerala Blasters FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in a clash that can have wide repercussions in the top-of-the-table dynamics of the Indian Super League (ISL) match on Sunday.

The Islanders recovered from consecutive goalless draws to secure their maiden victory under Petr Kratky in a dramatic encounter against the Mohun Bagan Super Giant (MBSG). The outcome of the 2-1 victory was such that Mumbai will be missing four of their key players, namely: Akash Mishra, Greg Strewart, Vikram Partap Singh, and Rahul Bheke, due to suspensions in this match.

Kratky wore a positive look even after the previous game though, praising the indomitable spirit of his players and saying that the coming game gives him a unique opportunity to test his bench strength. In all likelihood, they cannot afford to take Kerala Blasters FC lightly, particularly when they play in front of Manjappada.

The Kochi-based outfit lost by 2-1 to Mumbai City FC in the reverse fixture at the City of Dreams after Danish Farooq had gotten them an important equaliser in the second half. They will be eager to go one step ahead and inflict a loss upon the Islanders, who desperately want to be near the top-placed spots in the standings.

To their credit, the Islanders are unbeaten in the season so far. However, that does not mean that there aren’t holes to be filled in that setup. The impeccable quality in their squad will face a stern test in the backyard of the Blasters, who are unbeaten in their last six home matches – winning four games and drawing twice.

Kerala Blasters FC will return home after two matches, which included a 1-0 loss in Goa followed by a 1-0 victory against Punjab FC in New Delhi. They have definitely been hit by the absence of skipper Adrian Luna, and it needed a spot-kick by Dimitrios Diamantakos for them to emerge victorious against the ISL debutants. Their creative outputs will surely suffer with the Uruguayan sidelined, but KBFC need to ensure that the rest of weapons in their armoury fire together to stop a terrific Mumbai City FC unit.

In fact, Mumbai City FC have had a good record playing in Kochi over the previous seasons of the ISL. The sole and last victory for the Kerala Blasters FC against Mumbai City FC in Kochi in the ISL came way back on October 14, 2016, in the third season of the league.

However, KBFC have also scored in 20 out of their last 22 home games against all opponents, and have adopted an approach where they are unafraid to take the game to them this season. Which is why, they have forced 8.2 high turnovers (winning the ball back within 40 metres of the opposition’s goal) per game in ISL 2023-24, something that’s a clear warning sign for Rostyn Griffiths and his fellow defenders in the Mumbai City FC ranks.

In all fairness, Mumbai City FC head coach Petr Kratky has started off his stint in the ISL in quite some fashion. After two listless, goalless draws, the clash against the Mohun Bagan Super Giant had everything that one would expect from two teams at the top of their game.

The Islanders sneaked past the Mariners with a 2-1 win, but Kratky now has to deal with the aforementioned suspensions and rejig his squad for this crucial away fixture. Challenges are coming thick and fast his way, that too in different forms, with the new tactician being forced to relook his plans early on in his run in this country.

He can draw belief from the fact that the Islanders are promising on the road, having won thrice and drawn twice in their last five away encounters. In fact, they have found the back of the net at least twice in four of those matches. The fact that they have been able to weather the challenges that come for an opposition team in Kochi should hold them in good stead for this fixture too.

Kratky will do well to ensure that his playing style and philosophy is not tweaked extensively in the wake of the many absentees that they have for this game, with nothing less than a point being satisfactory for them at this stage of the campaign.

Naocha Singh of Kerala Blasters FC has played seven league games this season, recording eight interceptions, 13 clearances, and 24 tackles, to emerge as one of the most tenacious players in their backline despite the presence of a seasoned campaigner like Pritam Kotal. He is averaging 3.4 tackles per game in the current season, the highest such aggregate of any player in the competition so far.

In fact, he has won 18 of his 24 attempted tackles, and will be handful for the Mumbai City FC forwards like Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Bipin Singh, Lallianzuala Chhangte, amongst others to deal with on Sunday. Naocha has also been incredibly involved in building up play, averaging 41 passes in every match, with an accuracy of 68% on that front. His performance against a skilful and efficient Islanders’ frontline will be interesting to watch out for.

Mumbai City FC winger Bipin Singh made an instant impact in the last game, setting up a goal for Greg Stewart, before scoring the winner in the second-half. Bipin has been one of the terrifically consistent performers for Mumbai City FC over the years. With 22 goals and 11 assists in his ISL career, the winger has emerged as one of the most prominent domestic stars lately.

In fact, he is one win away from becoming the fifth player to reach 50 wins with a single club in ISL history, in fact, Bipin (94 games for Mumbai City FC) can become the fastest player to reach the milestone if he earns his next win within his next six appearances for the Islanders, breaking Udanta Singh’s record (50th win in 101st game for Bengaluru FC). In Stewart’s absence, he will be hopeful of putting in an impressive outing in one of the most challenging away grounds in the competition.

“I expect a good game against a good opponent. We like to compete and play these kinds of games, especially the players, they like these kinds of moments. Of course, as a sportsman, you expect a good game to see good things on the field. Players especially enjoy it because it’s Christmas Eve,” Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic mentioned in the pre-match press conference, adding that he is expecting his players to be highly motivated for this game.

“The result was fantastic, very important three points at home against a very tough opponent (Mohun Bagan Super Giant). It’s a boost for the group and we just need to keep going and connect that with our results in the next couple of games. I am very happy with the squad we have. The people who are coming in have a very good opportunity, and I am looking forward to seeing them play,” Mumbai City FC head coach Petr Kratky said.

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