Hero ISL: Semifinal aspirants ATK Mohun Bagan, Kerala Blasters cross swords in marquee clash

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Goa: Kerala Blasters FC will look to halt ATK Mohun Bagan’s winning run and cut the gap on them as well as Hyderabad FC, when the two sides meet in a rescheduled Hero Indian Super League encounter at the Tilak Maidan Stadium on Saturday.

Kerala beat SC East Bengal to get back to winning ways in their last encounter. The yellow army sit in fourth place with 26 points from 15 games. ATK Mohun Bagan have also played 15 matches, winning their last three games and breathing down league leaders Hyderabad’s neck with the same number of points (29) but inferior goal difference.

ATKMB have done exceedingly well under Juan Ferrando, especially in the absence of key foreign players where the Indians have stepped up. Indian forwards Liston Colaco and Manvir Singh have thrived to keep the Mariners in the top four this season.

Colaco leads the Indian scorers with 7 goals while Manvir is at the joint second spot with 5 goals, a spot he shares with Mumbai City FC’s Bipin Singh. Manvir became the first Indian player to score in three successive games for ATKMB in the Hero ISL and the third ATKMB player to score in three straight games after Roy Krishna and David Williams after scoring goals in each of his last 3 games.

No player has taken more shots in Hero ISL 21-22 than Colaco (57) while Manvir has taken the third highest shots among Indian players with 35 shots. Beyond the statistics, Colaco has been brilliant in almost every game for the green and maroons, linking up beautifully with the midfield and supplying some delightful balls to the likes of David Williams and Manvir.

“The job of the coaching staff is to help all the players and keep the squad ready. I am upset because sometimes the performance is not great but that is for every team. The players are playing for a short period so it’s not easy. The players in our team want to help the team,” said Ferrando.

On the injury updates to Carl McHugh, Hugo Boumous, Roy Krishna and David Williams, Ferrando said: “They are improving. I am happy because it was difficult in the last 3-4 games as they were injured but they are working with the team now and that is most important. When they are fully ready, it’s the best for the team.”

“Our plan is different against Kerala like it is for every game. We want to win the league and so it’s necessary to win all games. There is no other option. Kerala also have a great opportunity to win the league like us so tomorrow’s game is like a final you know,” added the Spaniard.

ATKMB can also rely on Indian players to get them the goals. Seventeen of the 31 goals scored by ATKMB have been scored by Indian players. No team has had a greater number of goals scored by Indian players this season.

For Kerala, they have kept their backline relatively tight and that has been a bedrock for their success. The Blasters have kept six clean sheets in Hero ISL 21-22, the highest number of clean sheets they have managed to keep in a Hero ISL season is the seven they managed in Hero ISL 2014 when they reached the final.

Prabsukhan Gill leads the race for Golden Glove with 5 clean sheets in 12 games. The young goalkeeper has conceded 10 goals in 12 games this season, conceding a goal every 100.4 minutes.

“We will fight to stay on top. It’s good that we have all players available for selection and we will see how the training goes and then we will decide on our XI,” said Kerala head coach Ivan Vukomanović.

Centre-back Marko Lešković is back again after the last game and Vukomanović will now have to decide whether to bring him back or give Enes Sipović another go after the defender scored in the last game. Adrian Luna, Álvaro Vázquez and Jorge Pereyra Díaz have all been brilliant in the attacking third for Kerala. “We will see about the combination (of foreigners) after training today. Only four of them can play so we will take that call,” he added.

“Hopefully, we will have a good game tomorrow and show another very good team that we are capable of being in the top four. We like to compete against good teams as it’s important for players as well to showcase themselves. Now it’s about points and making that top four,” Vukomanović said.

The last time the two teams met in the first game of the season, ATKMB ran out 4-2 winners.

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