Guwahati: A tough contest is on the cards when NorthEast United FC takes on Kerala Blasters at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here on Saturday in the Hero Indian Super League play.
Neither side has got off to the best of starts. NorthEast United FC are yet to collect a point, whereas Kerala Blasters have been on the losing side in all their matches since their victory over East Bengal FC in Matchweek 1. (Current Standings)
NorthEast United FC finished 11th last season, but it doesn’t look like their changes ahead of the season have had the desired effect so far. They’re the first team in ISL history to lose their first four matches. They’ve only scored one goal so far this season, but it’s not just problems on the field that have affected the side. (Club Statistics)
Marco Bulbul, the NorthEast United FC head coach, was sent off for the second time this season last week against Jamshedpur FC, and won’t be in the dugout for this game. NorthEast United FC’s assistant coach, Paul Groves, will take charge and was pressed about the team’s difficult start to the season in his pre-match press conference.
“I think if you talk about the mentality, and I think if you talk about the spirit – the one thing that the players have been is consistent. They have worked very hard every single day, and they’ve tried to implement everything that we’ve tried to do. At times, obviously, people make mistakes individually and collectively. At times, perhaps, we’ve lacked the quality in the final third to make sure that we finish off a chance or create a better chance. We’ve had opportunities, but not done enough,” he said.
While NorthEast United FC weren’t early favourites this season, the same cannot be said of their opponents. Kerala Blasters made the perfect start to their campaign, winning 3-1 at home against East Bengal FC in the season opener to send their home crowd into raptures. Since then, however, it has not been ideal.
They haven’t had too many issues with the forward line, which has brought them six goals so far this season. But on the other end, they have conceded 10 goals, which is more than any other side in the league so far this season.(Club Statistics)
Ivan Vukomanović, the man who led Kerala Blasters to the Hero ISL finals last season, said he wasn’t deterred by his team’s slow start to the season.
“In football, you have to try to keep the momentum. If you look at all four games, I think in all four games we showed some quality. We showed in the first game that we deserved to win, and in the next games we showed the way we wanted to play with the high press, with many moments to explore on the pitch, and you know sometimes you make individual mistakes which cracks you down during the game,” he said.
The two sides have faced each other 16 times in the ISL, with Kerala Blasters coming out on top 6 times, losing 4 times, and 6 matches ending in a draw. Kerala Blasters have accumulated more wins against NorthEast United FC than any other side in the league, but there isn’t a lot between the two teams as far as head-to-head history is considered.
The two sides drew their first match 0-0 last season and the second resulted in a 2-1 win for Kerala Blasters. Both sides desperately need a win, which will add another layer of tension to this encounter.