New Delhi: The Indian Super League (ISL) carnival travels down south on Tuesday to the football-mad state of Kerala for Matchday 4, as the home side takes on North East United FC (NEUFC).
Despite the slow start, Sachin Tendulkar's franchise made it to the finals last season. NEUFC too started off slowly, but did not manage to hit a high performance phase.
However, one similarity between both sides last season was the solidity in defence. KBFC and NEUFC weren't prolific going forward, but teams found it hard to break down their disciplined backline.
One positive for NEUFC ahead of their season opener is the fact that none of their players are part of India's World Cup qualifying squad. Hence coach Cesar Farias will have the luxury of fielding his best possible eleven.
On the other hand, Kerala will be without the rising star of Indian football and bedrock of their defense Sandesh Jhingan as well as midfielder Cavin Lobo who were named by Stephen Constantine in his 22-member squad for the back-to-back qualifying matches against Turkmenistan and Oman.
Mehtab Hossain is a veteran of many high-profile battles on the football field. The midfield linchpin was at the heart of Kerala's late surge in the tournament last season. With a pass accuracy of 80% and 28 interceptions, Hossain was in supreme form in the inaugural edition of the ISL. With his incredible work ethic and tactical nous, the East Bengal skipper is expected to run the show for Kerala once again this year.
NEUFC are hoping to address their problems up top after the acquisition of Nicolas Leandro Velez. The Argentine came up through the ranks at River Plate's youth academy and has matured into a lethal striker. The 25-year-old is a clinical finisher, known for his sharp movement in the final third. During his stint at Warriors FC in Singapore, Velez scored nine goals in 16 games. He will have to be tightly marked by Kerala's Peter Ramage.