Wednesday, June 19, 2024

ISL 2023-24: Teams with contrasting fortunes clash as Punjab FC host Kerala Blasters

Two teams at the opposite halves of the points table will clash in what is expected to be a gripping contest when Kerala Blasters FC travel to the national capital to take on Punjab FC in an ISL 2023-24 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Thursday.

While Kerala Blasters FC are placed second in the ISL 2023-24 points table with 17 points from nine matches, Punjab FC are second from the bottom with five points from nine games.

Punjab FC have now gone the longest without securing a maiden win for any club in ISL history. Their tally of five points after nine games is the joint-lowest (Hyderabad FC in 2019-20) secured by any team at this stage of the competition in their inaugural season in the competition.

However, it must be noted that they have drawn more times than they have lost so far. The first year in the top tier was never going to be a cakewalk for the team coached by Staikos Vergetis, but they have managed to come on terms, on par with much superior sides in the last few months.

What Punjab FC have been lacking is the finishing touch, the decisive instinct that gets them over the finishing line.

Considering their current form, they are unlikely to find the scoring touch and hammer many goals when they meet Kerala Blasters for the first time in the ISL.

However, all Punjab FC have to do at this moment is just stick by the processes, identify loopholes, consciously work on them, and not get bogged down by reputations, especially on their home turf.

Kerala Blasters faced a 1-0 loss to FC Goa in a top-of-the-table clash in their previous match, and that was preceded by a highly-entertaining 3-3 draw with Chennaiyin FC.

The last two results have gotten them three points behind league leaders, the Gaurs, having played an additional game as compared to the Manolo Marquez-coached unit. Until their paths meet again, the Kerala Blasters should strive to bridge the gap between them and FC Goa and not drop any more points going forward.

Though they have struggled so far, Punjab FC don’t look too far from their maiden victory in the top tier.

They have set themselves up nicely with three successive draws, against Hyderabad FC, Bengaluru FC, and East Bengal FC respectively. The 5-1 defeat to Chennaiyin FC did not dent their confidence much, as Vergetis brushed that aside and put the focus back on the larger picture for the team to march ahead with assurance.

Punjab now need to solidify their backline, having given away 16 goals, which is the second-most by any side after nine games in their first ISL season (after Hyderabad FC in 2019-20). Their style of play has been rather fleet-footed, with a host of players like Juan Mera and Luka Majcen who can run circles around the opposition’s defence.

On their part, Kerala Blasters FC gave FC Goa a tough fight at the Fatorda, but the win on the road against the team of the tournament eluded them.

Kerala Blasters FC have been one of the most thoroughly entertaining units in the league, with their dynamic forwards such as Dimitrios Diamantakos, Adrian Luna, and Kwame Peprah, along with India stars like Danish Farooq and Pritam Kotal contributing significantly to their success so far.

Strong starts have been central to their success, netting four times in the opening 15 minutes of their matches so far. Moreover, their tendency to begin games on the front foot has ensured that they haven’t given away any goal in that phase of the match thus far.

However, a failure to keep clean sheets in their last 10 away games meant that they always must elevate their gameplay on the front, which is a tough task in the home of the opposition. Whether they address these concerns in the forthcoming fixture remains to be seen.

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