The much-awaited new knockout stage of the Indian Super League playoffs will commence at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Friday, with Bengaluru FC locking horns with arch-rivals and last year’s runners-up Kerala Blasters FC. There will be no margin for error as the winners will book a semi-final berth against Mumbai City FC while the season ends immediately for the losing team.
Riding on the back of eight consecutive wins in the ISL league stage, Bengaluru FC will take the pitch with momentum in their favour. The Blues dropped no points in the league stage during this calendar year, and made a memorable comeback to book a spot in the playoffs, a streak which included a win against the Blasters.
Bengaluru FC faced the Blasters at home in the league less than a month ago, where they held onto a one-goal lead to clinch all three points and a clean sheet. Sivasakthi Narayanan is in spectacular form ahead of this encounter. The youngster has scored six goals this season, all of which have come in the last eight games.
“We are playing with confidence because we have been on such a good run. We have beaten some really good teams and will go into this game with really strong spirits, good confidence but no overconfidence,” said Bengaluru coach Simon Grayson.
“The performance against Kerala [Blasters] a few weeks ago was really good, and it helped us get to where we are now. But this is a different game, and the atmosphere will be electric,” he added.
The Kerala Blasters will have to bounce back with aplomb if they want to take something away from a venue that has never been a happy hunting ground for them. The Blasters come into this game after losing all of their last three ISL games. In their last five league games, the Blasters only won once.
The Blasters have lost all five away games they have played this calendar year, and are the playoff team with the most shaky scoring form ahead of the knockouts. They will have defender Marko Leskovic available for the next fixture, but it’s at the other end where head coach Ivan Vukomanovic will be looking for big improvements - and he suggested it doesn’t matter how the goals come.
“It will be an interesting game. In the last game against Bengaluru not long ago, we had more possession, but in the end, we lost the game,” said Vukomanovic.
“We have to find how to approach this game and how to win the game. We are in the knockout phase and nobody will care about what kind of football is played. Only the results will matter. We want to play the way we always play and want to be the dominant side,” he added.
In 12 ISL meetings between the two sides, Bengaluru FC have won seven encounters, while Kerala Blasters FC have won thrice. The Blasters are yet to beat the Blues in their own backyard.