Chennai: Six days after recording their first win of the season, Kerala Blasters FC will take on Chennaiyin FC in an attempt to build some momentum in what has so far been a stuttering Indian Super League (ISL) campaign.
Rene Meulensteen’s team suffered after recording three draws to begin with but held on to win 1-0 against NorthEast United in their previous game, and the Dutchman will hope that they’ve finally turned the corner when they meet the hosts at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Friday.
“The first task is to reassure my players that we’re in an ongoing process, still developing as a team and as individuals and you slowly put your jigsaw together. Apart from the Goa game, you have seen us getting more positive going forward, creating chances, opening teams up and scoring goals,” he said, adding that clean sheets would still be a high priority for a side which has kept three in five games.
“Clean sheets are the basis of everything and give you the right to play so that is important. We look very strong defensively and got our first win of the season and stumbling into it. That said, Chennaiyin are a side which know how to grind out a win and can score from open and set play,” the former Manchester United assistant coach said.
Chennaiyin’s ability to grind out results was certainly on show in their late wins against ATK and Bengaluru FC. Even with their backs to the wall, John Gregory has made them into a never-say-die outfit which keeps going till the end in the quest for points.
“I’ll never be satisfied. I told my players that we should have more points on the board. We’ve messed up a couple of times and I’ve messed up a couple of times but I’m delighted how hard the players have worked in training and matches,” he said, adding that his side now had a weight of expectation on them due to their performances.
He also said that he would take nothing for granted despite Chennaiyin losing just twice in eight games against the Blasters.
“I only use a statistic like that when it is to my advantage. I expect Kerala to finish higher than where they are and they’re coming into this game on the back of their first win and will prepare hard to get a favourable result,” the Englishman said.
Gregory is right to not take Kerala lightly because despite playing a game less, the Yellow Army is not far behind in terms of statistics when it comes to keeping the ball and passing it. The telling difference though, is Chennaiyin’s ability to convert nearly 20% of their goal chances to Kerala’s 9%. And it is probably that number which will determine the course of the match.
Meulensteen will not be able to pick either Dimitar Berbatov or Pritam Kumar, but for Gregory – except for the local hero Dhanpal Ganesh who will serve a match suspension for 4 Yellow cards – he has a full squad to choose from.