NorthEast United FC will look to break their winless jinx at home when they host Kerala Blasters at the Indira Gandhhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati in the Hero Indian Super League on Friday.
NorthEast have been impressive in the Indian Super League with 11 points from their first six matches. They are just below the top four at the moment, but with a match in hand could quite easily make the jump.
There is one problem though for the Highlanders. They've won three matches so far and all of them have been away from home.
Kerala Blasters haven't won a single game since their opening day victory over ATK. Coach David James has struggled to get his team going and the South Indian side is coming into the game on the back of two home defeats against Bengaluru FC and FC Goa.
SQUADS: A lot would depend on Bartholomew Ogbeche, who has scored more than 50 per cent of the goals for NorthEast this season. When the Nigerian striker has got on the scoresheet, NorthEast have never lost a game.
Coach Eelco Schattorie has been boosted by the return of defender Mislav Komorski. He, however, did admit that one of his foreign players has suffered a season-ending injury.
"We have one foreigner injured who might not play for the entire season, but I will not name him now as it can be an advantage for the opponents. Barth (Bartholomew Ogbeche) had some injury but he is back. We have some Indian players injured but this is part of football," said Schattorie.
Schattorie will certainly demand more ruthlessness from his frontmen when Kerala come calling. Captain Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego will be the men responsible for supplying the goals upfront. Ogbeche has been in scintillating form this season, bagging six goals already and establishing himself as NorthEast United’s highest goal scorer in a single campaign. In defence, Mislav Komorski could make his way back in the squad alongside Mato Grgic.
For Kerala, Anas Edathodika has struggled for minutes this season and although he was brought into the starting line-up against FC Goa, his performance left a lot to be desired. Whether James opts to field an all-Indian defence against the likes of Ogbeche and Federico Gallego remains to be seen.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Seminlen Doungel and Halicharan Narzary as they line-up against their former side.
Coming into the tie against the Highlanders, Kerala cannot afford to be wasteful in front of goal. The likes of Slavisa Stojanovic and CK Vineeth will have to step up to the plate and deliver a fine performance to help their side to victory. In their previous fixture against Goa, the Blasters’ defence was exposed by the swift movement of the likes of Ferran Corominas and Edu Bedia. With NorthEast likely to pose a similar challenge, Sandesh Jhingan and Co. will have to be on their toes throughout the 90 minutes.
MANAGERS SPEAK: Just like every other season for Kerala, they are struggling for goals. They haven't created many goal scoring opportunities either, leaving James to put up a defiant front.
"Our performances have been decent enough except for one match which is the Goa game where we didn't perform well enough. Goa are very good side. You have to accept on some occasions that some teams are better than you.
Schattorie said Kerala were a "very unpredictable team".
"Their strength is that they are a little opportunistic like they have players like Len Doungel and Halicharan Narzary who were in our team last time.
"They are good with dribbles, they play long balls. Defensively they have some weaknesses which I am not going to address. I studied the team well," said Schattorie.
FORM: The Highlanders have been in stellar form since the start of Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19. With six matches played, Eelco Schattorie’s men have collected 11 points – nine of those coming on the road. The side have looked like a strong cohesive unit and are capable of breaking any team down with their intricate passing and clever off the ball movement. However, despite their obvious flair and quality, they can sometimes be caught out for failing to take their chances, which was evident in the loss against Mumbai City in their previous encounter.
NorthEast United have scored 10 goals from 21 shots on target. They have the passing accuracy of 72.31 per cent and have managed to keep two clean sheets.
Kerala Blasters have suffered a relatively poor start to the new campaign. After impressing in their opening game against ATK, the Blasters have looked like a team devoid of inspiration and now languish in seventh spot in the league. The one major concern for David James’ side has been their inability to hold a lead. They have failed to capitalise on their advantage in numerous matches this season which has been the primary cause for their six-game winless streak.
Kerala have scored nine goals from 34 shots on target. They have the passing accuracy of 69.38 per cent and have managed to keep one clean sheet.
HEAD-TO-HEAD -- NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters have faced each other eight times with Kerala winning five of those matches and NorthEast winning two matches.
NORTHEAST UNITED FC: Pawan Kumar (GK), Reagan Singh, Mato Grgic, Mislav Komorski, Keegan Pereira, Rowllin Borges, Jose Leudo, Redeem Tlang, Federico Gallego, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Bartholomew Ogbeche (C)
KERALA BLASTERS FC: Naveen Kumar (GK), Mohamad Rakip, Sandesh Jhingan (C), Anas Edathodika, Lalruatthara, Nikola Krcmarevic, Prasanth K, Keziron Kizito, Halicharan Narzary, Slavisa Stojanovic, CK Vineeth