ISL 2023-24: With one foot in Playoffs, Kerala Blasters host under-pressure East Bengal

Kochi, April 2 (IANS) Strong contenders for a place in the Playoffs, Kerala Blasters FC will hope to bag full points when they play host to East Bengal FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Wednesday.

With 30 points from 19 matches in their kitty, the Keala Blasters are in a position in which five teams -- Hyderabad FC, East Bengal FC, NorthEast United FC, Jamshedpur FC, and Bengaluru FC -- cannot match their tally. Only Chennaiyin FC and Punjab FC can catch up with Ivan Vukomanovic & Co. Punjab FC will square off against Odisha FC on Tuesday night, and a failure to win against the Juggernauts will mean that they will become the sixth team that could not equal or surpass the points won by Kerala Blasters FC. This will automatically result in the Kochi-based team qualifying for the Playoffs.

Thus, there is all probability that Kerala Blasters FC would have a foot into the next round of the competition by the time of their match against the Red & Gold Brigade.

In contrast, East Bengal FC have to fight tooth and nail to make it to the top six. They are in the penultimate spot in the standings presently, having notched 18 points from 19 games. With three matches remaining, they can get to a maximum of 27 points with a prospective victory in all of their remaining matches.

There is no denying that the Kerala Blasters FC campaign has gone off track after the mid-season break. However, they can be eyeing their first league double over East Bengal FC with a potential victory in this match. Their backline needs some strengthening in the final month of this ISL season, with the team having conceded at least a goal in each of their last seven matches in the competition.

The last and only time they went with more games without a clean sheet was a stretch of eight matches from November 2015 to October 2016. Kerala Blasters FC lost a 4-3 thriller to the Mohun Bagan Super Giant on the home turf of the former in their last game here. A defeat will see Kerala Blasters lose consecutive matches at home for the first time since October 2022.

They tend to begin second halves of matches on a strong note, having scored seven goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half so far in ISL 2023-24, which is the highest amongst all teams. Needless to say, East Bengal FC has to be wary of not letting Kerala Blasters FC run away with the game in this phase of the match.

On the other hand, East Bengal FC went into this game on the back of three consecutive losses in the ISL. The last time they went on a longer such run was four matches in January 2023. They are averaging 10.1 headed clearances per game in ISL 2023-24, which is the second-highest aggregate by any side in the season, i.e. Punjab FC (11.7). Accordingly, the Kerala Blasters FC unit knows that they cannot use their aerial prowess to attack the East Bengal FC box.

These two teams last locked horns in November 2023, with the Yellow Army edging past the Kolkata-based side by 2-1, with a goal by Cleiton Silva in the added time of the second half by Cleiton Silva falling short of even securing them a point. Dimitrios Diamantakos was on the sheet for the Yellow Army in that match, and he will be another threat for East Bengal FC this time around, with the Greek striker having already found the back of the net 13 times so far in this campaign.

Overall, in head-to-head series, these teams have played each other on seven occasions with Kerala Blasters winning three matches and East Bengal 1. Three games ended in draws.

--IANS

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