Kochi (Kerala) [India], February 12 (ANI): The Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 enters a new phase with the matchweek 15 kicking off with the clash between Kerala Blasters FC and Punjab FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Monday.
Punjab FC resumed their ISL campaign after the mid-season break with a terrific 3-1 victory over Bengaluru FC at home. They are at 11th spot in the points table with two wins, five draws and six losses, giving them 11 points, as per an ISL press release.
That was only their second win in their maiden campaign in the top-tier and the team will be drawing confidence from that to take on the Yellow Army away from home. Kerala Blasters FC had edged past Punjab FC by a slender 1-0 margin, thanks to a Dimitrios Diamantakos penalty in the previous fixture between the two sides in New Delhi. Ivan Vukomanovic and his team will hence be looking to do the league double over Punjab FC, and thus in the process become the first team to do so against them in the ISL.
Vukomanovic-coached side anyways need to recover from the 2-1 defeat to Odisha FC, which has complicated dynamics at the top of the points table. They will be backing their odds in the comfort of their home, against a team that is yet to win in an away fixture this season. Dealing with injury concerns to key players, the team faces an uphill challenge to sustain their momentum in the second half of this campaign. This is when Vukomanovic’s coaching acumen and pedigree come into play, as he has to ride over these challenges to put up a strong face against equally determined opponents.
Kerala is at number three in the points table, with eight wins, two draws and three losses. They have a total of 26 points.
Pritam Kotal (Kerala Blasters FC)
Pritam Kotal has been a highly influential signing for Kerala Blasters FC. The seasoned defender has helped them keep four clean sheets so far, making 12 tackles, 22 clearances, and 27 interceptions so far. He has made an average of 2.1 interceptions per game, which is the highest in the league for any player who has played an average of seven matches.
Kotal averages 34 passes per game with 73 per cent accuracy and has seamlessly slotted in to become a leader at the back for the team. Punjab FC ran circles around the Bengaluru FC backline in the previous match, unlocking their defence and taking regular shots against them. Kotal will have to help his counterparts hold the defensive unit together, and Punjab FC will have to devise particular plans to overcome him in the game.
Madih Talal (Punjab FC)
Punjab FC has sharp strikers in Gil and Majcen, but Madih Talal is someone who is even more threatening to the opposition because he can both set up and finish off goals. He has scored twice and assisted thrice in ISL 2023-24, and his involvement in the proceedings and stature has only been rising ever since. His fleet-footedness has helped him win the most fouls (37) by any player in the competition. He has created an average of two goal-scoring opportunities per game, taking 29 shots in total. Talal is a livewire in the frontline, donning a free-flowing role and breaking apart defences with his vision and sharp deliveries into the box. Whether he can recreate his magic in Kochi will be closely looked out for.
Played – 1
Kerala Blasters FC – 1
Punjab FC – 0
Draws – 0
“This is one of the most important games of the season for us. That is because we want to begin in a good way at home. We will play four more home games, in addition to five away, and hence we need to try to collect as many points as possible,” said Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic in the pre-match press conference.
“One positive result helps the psychology of the player to get to a good level. It gives them confidence. I had seen from our Super Cup games that they have more confidence and this is something that was confirmed in the last game,” Punjab FC head coach Staikos Vergetis remarked.