Top four dreams at stake as Kerala Blasters face Goa

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While the hosts will be eager to get back to the top of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 table, the visitors need a win to keep their top four hopes alive.

FC Goa vs Kerala Blasters FC (Photo: Twitter|ISL)

Panaji: When Kerala Blasters FC faces FC Goa at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Saturday, it will be a match of two teams with quite different ambitions. While the hosts will be eager to get back to the top of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 table, the visitors need a win to keep their top four hopes alive.

Kerala lost their last outing to Jamshedpur FC, which dealt a major blow to their top four ambitions. To give themselves a fighting chance of making it to the semi-finals, it will be imperative the men in yellow doesn't drop any more points. Every remaining match is virtually a must-win affair for Kerala.

FC Goa suffered a disappointing 2-0 loss at the hands of ATK FC in their last match and will be eager to bounce right back with a victory over Kerala. With a chance to go back to the top of the table with a win, Goa will look to grab the opportunity with both hands and keep the pressure on Bangaluru and ATK in the ongoing race to finish at the summit.

Goa head coach Sergio Lobera holds a unique record of never having lost to Kerala in the five matches he has been in charge of the Gaurs against the men in yellow, winning four and drawing one. The Spaniard will be looking to sustain the unbeaten record when he leads his team out against Kerala on Saturday.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kerala head coach Eelco Schattorie is yet to win an ISL encounter against FC Goa, losing on both occasions when he was in charge of NorthEast last term and drawing the reverse fixture with Kerala earlier this season.

Goa currently have the best attacking returns in the league this season having scored 25 goals so far, but have been operating below their usual prolific standards off late, managing to net just three in their last three.

The likes of Ferran Corominas, Hugo Boumous and other attackers will look to rectify that against Kerala. Brandon Fernandes, the team's key playmaker this campaign, was suspended for the ATK match and his return will be a huge boost for the team, especially considering his set-piece prowess.

Dead ball situations may prove to be a major narrative in the game. Goa, mostly, have been lethal from set pieces, scoring 12 goals from such situations so far this season - the highest tally in the league. Kerala, on the other hand, have struggled at defending set-pieces, conceding eight goals - the second worst record in the league.

Constant defensive lapses have been a big detriment for Kerala this season, with the team dropping a massive 12 points from winning positions owing to their inability to hold onto leads. The frailty was on show yet again in their last match against Jamshedpur, where they took the lead twice but eventually lost out 3-2.

Against a strong Goa outfit, Kerala’s defence will need to be on point and the onus will be on Vlatko Drobarov to organize the backline, if Gianni Zuiverloon doesn’t recover in time for Saturday’s match. Abdul Hakku’s suspension, after the young centre back was sent off against Jamshedpur, will only add to Kerala’s already-substantial defensive woes.

The team has done a lot better on the offensive front, however, with strikers Bartholomew Ogbeche and Messi Bouli scoring 13 goals between themselves this season. The duo, when playing together, pose a unique challenge for opposition defenders with their contrasting styles of play.

While Ogbeche is a traditional number nine, capable of deft touches and pin-point finishing, Messi is more of an imposing physical presence, who drifts around the field, pressing and harrying defenders constantly and forcing errors out of them.

The battle between the two and Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena in the Goa defence, promises to be an enthralling contest fans can look forward to on Saturday.

Goa, however, have conceded the least amount of goals (3) at home this season and the Messi-Ogbeche combination will need help from the likes of Seityasen Singh, Halicharan Narzary and Mario Arques from the midfield, if they are to breach the orange wall on Saturday.

(Based on an ISL story)

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