During a normal Indian Super League season, this fixture would have been one of the most heated clashes in the league due to the passionate rivalry between the two sets of fans. Whether it be at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi or the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, supporters of both sides would have thronged to the stands in numbers.
No fans will be present at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim in Goa, when Kerala Blasters take on Bengaluru FC on Tuesday. But the sheer importance of the fixture for two teams desperately trying to turn their season around means that it will lack none of the edge.
Kerala will be looking to put behind them, the disappointment of conceding an injury-time equaliser to SC East Bengal. This inability to hold leads has been a recurring feature of Kerala’s season so far — they have lost ten points after scoring the first goal, the most by any team in the league.
“Bengaluru FC are a good team, they have got good players,” said Kerala coach Kibu Vicuna. “The circumstances are different but we are preparing for the game as we do every game, and trying to improve the offensive part of the team and the strategic dimensions.”
Vicuna, though, has a number of issues to sort out. His team has conceded the most goals (20) this season and the joint-most number of penalties (5). Only SCEB has conceded more goals than them in the second half.
“The team, I think, is performing better,” said Vicuna. “We have to keep going, work better and harder every day and the team is going to be much better.”
For Bengaluru interim coach Naushad Moosa, the match will be about snapping a five-match winless run that saw his team lose four. He will also be counting on his team to improve at the back for Bengaluru have not kept a clean sheet in eight games. They have already conceded more in the league (16) than they did in the whole of last season.
“There is a lot of positivity in the camp now,” said Moosa. “We got a good 5-6 days for training. We worked on what all things were not going our way. Hopefully, we’ll play a better game tomorrow.”
Moosa will be without influential midfielder Dimas Delgado, who flew back to Spain due to a family emergency. However, he was confident that Bengaluru had enough in the tank to cope without Delgado. “He was an important part of our team, no doubt about it,” said Moosa. “But this is what football is all about. It is not that we don’t have good players — we have quality players.”