Jamshedpur look to upset Kerala Blasters' apple cart in Boxing Day blockbuster
Vasco da Gama, December 25, 2021
The Kerala Blasters FC juggernaut will look to remain unscathed amid festivities and continue making merry but in Jamshedpur FC they will face a stern test, to say the least, when the two sides meet in the Hero Indian Super League here on Sunday.
The Boxing Day blockbuster at the Tilak Maidan Stadium will see two sides who are not only in the top four but also in supreme form, riding on some free-scoring attackers and well-oiled defence in the last few matches. Kerala have been unbeaten in six games while Jamshedpur haven't lost their last two.
Jamshedpur shared the spoils in a 0-0 draw against Bengaluru FC in their previous engagement but the Men of Steel have been prolific in front of goal with Greg Stewart being at the heart of their success.
Kerala have been spectacular so far, putting behind disappointments of previous years with a collection of players who have dazzled, especially in front of goal. They won 3-0 against Chennaiyin FC in their last game, making light of an obdurate Chennaiyin defence.
Among the players who have risen to the occasion for Kerala, Sahal Abdul Samad has been brilliant, scoring in back-to-back games. Prior to the start of the 2021-22 Hero ISL, the youngster had just one goal to his name. But in seven games this season, he has managed to score thrice, including one each in the last two games.
His defensive game has also been encouraging this season. He has 13 successful tackles, the second-highest among Kerala players after Adrian Luna (15). Sahal’s 11 blocks this season is bettered only by Marko Leskovic’s 14 among Kerala players.
Luna has been the creative spark in Kerala's attacking arsenal. He has three assists in the league until now, only Ahmed Jahouh (5), Roy Krishna (4) and Greg Stewart (4) have more. His passing, vision, and ability to pick out players perfectly is one of the reasons why Kerala look so comfortable in creating chances in open play.
"We have been consistent and the players are working hard. That's how you get better in football," said Kerala head coach Ivan Vukomanović. On the massive fan base they have, he said: "We are sorry we cannot have the victories in front of our fans. I have huge respect for them and we will continue the good work."
Vukomanović added that they are taking it one game at a time and building on the momentum. "Our goal this season is to work hard. We finished second from bottom last season, so we need to keep working hard and build on the momentum. In football, it's about momentum and playing game by game."
Kerala have scored 12 goals in their first 7 games, including an own goal in the game against Bengaluru FC. For the first time in their Hero ISL history, the club have scored more than 10 goals after 7 opening league games and that is a testament to their teamwork.
For Kerala, nine different players have had a goal or an assist this season. Only Jamshedpur FC (11) and Hyderabad FC (10) have more players contributing to a goal or an assist.
Jamshedpur, meanwhile, are sitting third in the table and have the same number of points Kerala have (12). A win on the morrow will take either team level on points with Mumbai City FC who have a game in hand.
"I'm excited about every game, especially when you are playing a good team like Kerala Blasters. They have an outstanding coach, somebody who, apart from his footballing qualities, is a nice man," said Jamshedpur coach Owen Coyle.
"I think I have mentioned before, they have wonderful foreigners," he said. "They have all played at a very high level. They have got dangerous Indians as well and they are dangerous as a team. They work very hard not just individually but as a team. But it's a team we are looking forward to playing," he added.