Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi
13th December 2014, 19:00 IST
A southern derby is in store on Saturday when Kerala Blasters host Chennaiyin FC in the semi-final first leg at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. While Chennaiyin FC finished the group phase of the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) in top spot with 23 points from 14 games, Kerala Blasters concluded their group stage campaign three places and four points adrift of the leaders. The clash of the Southern giants will most notably be a contest between the ISL’s best attack versus the tournament’s best defence. Chennaiyin FC have thus far managed to score 24 goals in the ISL, while Kerala Blasters have conceded just 11 times. On the other hand, both teams have struggled on the opposite ends of the pitch, with Chennai conceding 20 goals, the second-highest in the ISL behind Mumbai FC’s tally of 21, and the Blasters managing to score just nine times, the lowest in the division. Hence, a mouth watering and intriguing contest awaits us in Kochi at the weekend.
Team News and Tactical Brief:
Kerala Blasters have thus far managed to keep six clean sheets in the ISL, and it is safe to say that the franchise’s forte is their defence. Irrespective of whether they score against Chennaiyin FC or not in the semi-final first leg, David James’ side will be keen to produce another shut-out, which will enable them to travel to Chennai as a more confident unit. The Blasters have managed to score more than a goal just two times this season; hence they will be desperate to protect their goal or else they might have to find the back of the net on more than one occasions in the deciding fixture in midweek.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-2-2): Sandip Nandy, Sandesh Jhingan, Gurwinder Singh, Cedric Hengbart, Jamie McAllister, Stephen Pearson, Mehtab Hossain, Penn Orji, Pedro Gusmao, Iain Hume, Milagres Gonsalves
With Sandip Nandy putting in impressive displays between the sticks, James may prolong his stint in the technical area. In addition, playing an Indian in goal will make way for fielding an additional foreigner in any of the other departments. The back-four of Sandesh Jhingan, Gurwinder Singh, Cedric Hengbart, Jamie McAllister looks rock-solid, with versatile Jhingan being one of the finds of the tournament. Stephen Pearson and Mehtab Hossain will marshal the area just in front of Kerala Blasters’ defence, while Penn Orji and Pedro Gusmao will be expected to play more offensive roles. Iain Hume will be Kerala’s key man upfront, with the Canadian being the Blasters’ topscorer with four strikes to his name, including the all important strike in the 1-0 win over Pune FC earlier in the week which enabled the Men in Yellow to book their place in the semi-finals of the ISL. Milagres Gonsalves, who will be the furthest man upfront for Kerala, is a battling forward and will be expected to link up well with Hume.
Chennaiyin FC will be travelling to Kochi buoyed by the return of their marquee signing Elano. The Brazilian, who is the ISL’s top goalscorer, with eight strikes to his name, was sidelined for the past few weeks with an injury. Reliable defender Gouramangi Singh is also expected to feature in the Southern derby after recovering from a groin injury. The Indian international returned to action in his side’s last group stage match earlier in the week, a 2-2 draw with Delhi Dynamos. However, lively forward Stiven Mendoza is yet to recover from his hamstring problem. Chennaiyin FC will look to come out with a positive result against Kerala Blasters as it will enable them to play more freely in the reverse fixture. But Marco Materazzi and company will be well aware of the vociferous home support at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where the Blasters have lost just once in the present campaign.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-1-4-1): Gennaro Bracigliano, Gouramangi Singh, Alessandro Nesta, Mikel Silvestre, Dhanachandra Singh, Denson Devadas, Bojan Djordjic, Harmanjot Khabra, Bruno Pelissari Elano, Jeje Lalpekhlua
Goalkeeper Gennaro Bracigliano has been in good form, but he will have a new-look defence in front of him. Alessandro Nesta was roped in during the business-end of the ISL, and the ex-Italy international is yet to fully come to grips with the ISL. Gouramangi Singh has just returned from an injury lay-off, while Mikel Silvestre and Dhanachandra Singh have put in some solid performances this season. Bojan Djordjic will play as a defensive blocker, but do not be surprised if player-coach Marco Materazzi himself decides to play in the vital position, owing to the magnitude of the contest. Denson Devdas and Harmanjot Khabra are both seasoned campaigners and the duo will be expect to join in attacks and fall back to help Chennai’s defence whenever required. Bruno Pelissari somewhat managed to fill the void created during Elano’s absence and it will be interesting to see how the Brazilians work in tandem, if indeed they play together. Jeje Lalpekhlua will be the focal point of Chennaiyin FC’s attacks, with the striker having already found the back of the net three times, the joint highest Indian goalscorer of the ISL along with Goa’s Romeo Fernandes.
Chennayin FC edged out Kerala Blasters 2-1 in the first ever meeting between the two sides, with Elano giving his side a 14th minute lead, courtesy of a neatly taken spot-kick. Although Kerala equalised after the break through Iain Hume, Bernard Mendy’s stunning bicycle-kick goal sealed the deal in the home side’s favour. In the corresponding group stage fixture in Kochi, Bruno Pelissari’s late winner helped Chennaiyin FC to triumph in the Southern derby once again. Interestingly, the loss remains Kerala Blasters’ only home defeat of the season thus far.
Kerala Blasters 0-1 Chennaiyin FC
Despite going through a mini slump presently, the Blue Brigade are favourites to trump their Yellow counterparts for the third time on the trot.