The Hero Indian Super League has entered the play-off stage. The four teams that have made it into the ISL semi-finals are Chennaiyin FC, Kerala Blasters, FC Goa and Atletico De Kolkata.
On Saturday night, Chennaiyin travel to Kochi for the first leg of their ISL semi-final encounter with Kerala Blasters. Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala Blasters await the league toppers in what promises to be a thriller of a match.
Kerala Blasters will have their task cut out. They are the lowest scoring team of the ISL. In contrast, Chennaiyin are the highest scoring team. Kerala Blasters need to win the first leg of this semi-final encounter if they are to stand any chance in the return leg. Chennaiyin are too formidable a team to take on at the Marina Arena. All that Chennaiyin need to do is to score in Kochi and get an away goal.
Head To Head: Chennaiyin 2-0 Kerala Blasters
The teams have met twice with identical results. Chennaiyin won both the previous clashes and also handed Kerala Blasters their only home defeat of the campaign.
In the first match that the teams faced off in, Bernard Mendy flipped the world upside down by scoring with a stunning Overhead Kick. Mendy’s goal gave Chennaiyin a 2-1 lead which they successfully defended till the final whistle.
Chennaiyin won 1-0 at Kerala’s home ground in the league stages with a second half goal by Bruno Pelissari.
Both teams have some big names in their arsenal but Chennaiyin have a significant edge in terms of the quality of players.
Alessandro Nesta’s addition to the squad strengthens an already formidable defence line. Bernard Mendy, Mikael Silvestre and Dhanachandra Singh complete Chennaiyin’s back line. French custodian Gennaro Bracigliano will stand guard between the sticks and complete one of the best defense lines of the ISL.
Chennaiyin’s forward line is undeniably the best in ISL. Together the boys have scored 24 goals in the league stage which is more than any other team. Elano Blumer scored 8 goals for the team in just 9 appearances before being ruled out with an injury. Now, Elano is back and will pose all kinds of troubles for the Kerala Blasters Defence.
Alongside Elano will be the Indian striker Balwant Singh, ISL’s first Indian goal scorer. Balwant is quick and witty about his job. His off-the ball movements are as good as his dribbling skills.
In Midfield, the prodigal Brazilian Bruno Pelissari has cemented his place after wonderful performances. He will be joined by Denson Devadas, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Harmanjot Khabra.
Too many chefs spoil the broth?
Materazzi has many big names in his team. That is definitely an asset but it will also leave the manager with a lot of work to do. Bruno Pelissari was introduced as a replacement for Elano Blumer. However, Pelissari’s performances have been so exceptional that ignoring him is not possible. Now Blumer is back too and Alessandro Nesta has joined the squad as well. Materazzi’s biggest challenge is that he can only take 6 overseas players in the team. Cristian Hidalgo, Djemba-Djemba, Mendoza, Djordjic will probably have to sit in the substitutes.
Predicted Starting Elven
It’s very difficult to get into Materazzi’s shoes at the moment. Here is a predicted line-up for the first leg of the Semifinal clash.
Defenders: Bernard Mendy, Alessandro Nesta, Mikael Silvestre, Dhanachandra Singh.
Mid-fielders: Denson Devadas, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Harmanjot Khabra.
Strikers: Elano Blumer, Balwant Singh, Bruno Pelissari.
Kerala Blasters FC
Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala Blasters have a balance of both Indian and Overseas players. This should make the job of choosing his men for the semi-final an easy job for David James.
Gurwinder Singh will have the responsibility of leading the defense. His job will be to keep a check on Blumer’s movement. Keeping Blumer and Pelissari caged is the biggest task for Kerala’s defense. In the absence of Cedric Hangbert, defensive Midfielder Mehtab Hossain may be pulled back to be a full time defender. Colin Falvey will be in the centre with Gurwinder Singh. Sandesh Jhingan and McAllister will guard the flanks.
David James has recovered from his groin injury and should start ahead of Sandip Nandy.
Mid-fielders Penn-Orji and Stephen Pearson will have to conduct Kerala’s attacks and also bolster the defence. Mehtab Hossain and Sabeeth will open the wings to provide width in attack.
Iain Hume will have the toughest job of scoring against the Chennaiyin FC defense. His partner in attack will be an interesting choice as David James has been using Pedro Gusmao for quite some time now. If James decides to play himself he will have to either add an Indian in midfield or use an Indian with Hume.
Predicted Starting Eleven
The only doubts here are if James will start the match. Sandip Nandy has put up some good performances in his absence.
In attack, Pedro Gusmao will probably be dropped. Gusamo has made 7 appearances so far in the ISL and scored one goal and one assist.
Defenders: McAllister, Colin Falvey, Gurwinder Singh, Sandesh Jhingan.
Midfielders: Mehtab Hossain, Penn-Orji, Stephen Pearson, CS Sabeeth, Avinabo Bag.
Strikers: Iain Hume.
Prediction: With the confidence that Chennaiyin have shown in the league stages, it is difficult to see anything other than a win by the Blue Brigade.