The Tuskers vs. The Highlanders Preview

Will The Elephants Climb The Mountains Or Will The Mountains Bury The Elephants?

The Highlanders will travel south to face The Tuskers at Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in what will be the last game of the league phase of ISL-3. Despite that, however, the game will be a tense affair because it will decide the fate of both the teams involved. The result of this game will define the last semi-finalist of the current season. The requirements are different for both the teams, though.

The Tuskers Form & Strategy

steve-coppell-kerala-blasters-fcKerala Blasters FC has better odds in this game. The Tuskers only need to avoid a loss to clinch the last playoff berth by virtue of the fact that they have a point more than their opponents in this game.

Considering the start The Tuskers had to the season, it is a surprise that they’ve made it so close to a semi-finals berth. Their first two games were losses but such is the turnaround by this team from the south that they’ve only lost 2 games out of 11 since.

They’ve achieved this turnaround by focusing on defence first. In fact, The Tuskers can be defined as a defensive English team because their offensive style is distinctively English. It is understandable too since they have an English manager in Steve Coppell.

Defensively, The Tuskers have relied on the leadership qualities of Aaron Hughes and the proactive qualities of Cedric Hengbart. Hengbart has aerially dominated most games he’s played, which is why he leads the league for aerial duels won. While Hughes hasn’t featured in the numbers, his marshalling of the Kerala defence has been one of the standout features of the league.

The offence of The Tuskers, unfortunately, hasn’t clicked as well as their defence which is evident in the fact that they’ve scored the least number of goals in the league. They would’ve probably not even scored that much if CK Vineeth hadn’t come into the fold and scored four goals in the last five games.

Vineeth, in fact, is the most in form striker in the league along with Marcelinho of Delhi Dynamos FC. He even has the best goal to game ratio. On top of his goals, he has also managed to contribute with an assist. Another offensively key player for The Tuskers will be Mohammed Rafi who is third in the league in headers. Rafi is an important cog of The Tuskers’ gameplay because they whip in a lot of crosses.

The Highlanders Form & Strategy

rowllin-borges-northeast-united-fcThe Tuskers’ opponents in this game are on a decent run of form since they’re unbeaten in their last four games. The Highlanders’ style of play is decidedly possession based. They pass the ball around till they spot an opportunity to set someone loose behind the opponents’ defence. Thus, they rely heavily on through balls.

Defensively, The Highlanders are an enigma. They don’t win a lot of headers, they don’t make a lot of tackles, and they don’t even have a lot of interceptions to their name. This simply means that their defence is passive in nature wherein they sit back with two banks of four and keep their opponents at an arm’s length.

They also have many good individual performers. Their keeper Subrata Paul is very accomplished and has the most clean sheets in the league. He is also 3rd in the league in saves. The Highlanders’ midfield lynchpin is the breakout Indian star, Rowllin Borges. Borges leads The Highlanders in passing and interceptions both. Amongst forwards, the dynamic running of Emiliano Alfaro and Nicolas Velez dovetails well with The Highlanders’ dependence on through balls.

The Highlanders have a fighting chance to clinch the last semi-finals birth but they need to win this game. A draw would be unacceptable. The Highlanders have actually remained in contention by the skin of their teeth.

In practice, they have managed to stay in contention by beating the all-conquering Delhi Dynamos FC in their last game. While that win was impressive, it needs to be taken in with the fact that The Pride didn’t have much to play for in that game. The same will not be true with The Tuskers.

Aerial Domination or Passing Possession?

This game is a clash of varying styles and The Tuskers are better suited for the win in this matchup. The Highlanders’ reliance on through balls plays directly into the hands of The Tuskers because they like to sit back and deny space to the opponents.

Similarly, The Tuskers’ dependence on crosses and headers will counter The Highlanders’ style of defence. More importantly, The Highlanders don’t have many accomplished headers in their team. Finally, The Tuskers are at home in this game and their home support is easily the best and most passionate in the entire league.

Their home support will put a lot of pressure on The Highlanders. We believe that these permutations will tell in the end on The Highlanders. Our prediction is a well-fought win for The Tuskers with a score line of 1 – 0. We’ll even stick our heads out and say that the goal will come from a header.

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The Indian Rojiblancos vs. the Tuskers

Will The Rojiblancos Ride The Elephants Today?

The Tuskers will travel to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium to face the Indian Rojiblancos in what will be a tightly contested game. The game will be close because there isn’t a lot to separate the two sides. Both of them have garnered the same number of points in their twelve games, even if they’ve done so through different paths.

The Indian Rojiblancos have drawn more games while The Tuskers have won more and lost more games. This difference between the two sides is due to their forms. Atletico De Kolkata has played the whole season in a measured and strategic manner while Kerala Blasters FC has tended to blow hot and cold.

The Indian Rojiblancos’ Form & Strategy

borja-fernandez-atkIn fact, the strategic and tactical game play has been a feature of Atletico De Kolkata not only in this season but in the history of Indian Super League. The Indian Rojiblancos come into this game on a decent run of form too. They’re unbeaten in four games but have only won their last game in that run.

While the Indian Rojiblancos largely manage their games well, their biggest problem is that they lose concentration in the last few minutes of most games. Statistically, ATK have leaked goals near the end of their games.

For example, even though they won their last game, it was only because of a last gasp winner. They led most of that game only to let their opponents equalise in the last ten minutes. Fortunately for them, they retook the lead in the 92nd minute.

The measured Indian Rojiblancos style of play shows in their formations too. They change their shape on the basis of their opponents but it is usually some version of the 4-4-1-1. Hence, we expect to see the same shape this time around.

With respect to key players, the Indian Rojiblancos have good division of labour. Their most effective attacker is Iain Hume who is second in the league with five goals. His presence in this game is iffy, however, since he has been absent for the last two games due to injury.

In the midfield, the Indian Rojiblancos’ best player is Borja Fernandez. He is third in the league in passes and leads his team in tackles. So, he performs the function of disruption and distribution simultaneously. His tackling is going to be the more useful skill in this game since The Tuskers are blowing hot right now.

The Tuskers’ Form & Strategy

Mohammed Rafi, Kerala Blasters FCThe Tuskers blowing hot and cold refers to the fact that they’ve had very bad days and very good days in the league. The early part of their season was quite poor, a period in which they won only two games out of eight played. The latter half, on the other hand, was much better because The Tuskers have won three out of their last four games.

In this game, even though The Tuskers are playing away from home, we expect them to continue their good form and get a result. They’ve build their entire game on defensive solidity provided by the central defensive partnership of the ever-reliant Cedric Hengbart and the influential Aaron Hughes.

Hughes uses his immeasurable international experience to direct the entire defence while Hengbart leads by example with his physicality and athleticism. Hengbart has been so good that he leads the lead in aerial duels won.

The Tuskers, in fact, have a very English game. They not only rely on defensive headers to dominate their opponents but also attacking headers. Their striker, Mohammed Rafi, happens to have won the third most aerial duels in the league.

Owing to their focus on the English style of football, you will see the Kerala Blasters wingers whip in many crosses for their strikers. Whether their strikers convert or not is another matter entirely because even ATK’s defenders are good in the air.

Which Way Will The Fence Topple?

This is why we expect this game to end up in a tame draw. Both teams will most probably cancel each other out with respect to formations and personnel. They will both also play very safe because neither of them will want to lose ground on the other.

In fact, the biggest contributing factor to the draw will be that it will be a good result for both these teams and will go a long way in both of them cementing their semi-finals births. A draw will mean that the Indian Rojiblancos and The Tuskers will both be on 19 points. This will put them four clear of three other teams in the league on 15 points with only two games to go.

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KBFC vs. FCPC Preview

Two Teams in Dire Need to Bounce Back

Habas and his team FC Pune City will visit Coppell and his Kerala Blasters FC, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. This is a very crucial game for KBFC and FCPC both since each of them is in need of a significant bounce-back.

There is a lot of similarity between the two teams. Both of them are on 15 points and are separated only by goal difference. Both of them are within touching distance of a semi-finals birth. Both of them have gone through poor stretches of results before turning things around with back to back wins. Moreover, both teams suffered in their respective last games in different ways, so it will be interesting to see which of them shows the most character and spirit.

KBFC’s Form & Strategy

ck-vineeth-kbfcKBFC’s last game was a disaster. They went down two goals early in the first half to Diego Forlan. As they tried to regain parity with attacking football, they were put to the sword by Mumbai City FC. They lost that game 5 – 0. Irrespective of what anyone says, their last game will have had a huge impact on their morale which, in turn, would influence this game significantly.

After all, before their last game, KBFC were the most defensively sound team in the league. That game took them from the least conceding team in the league to an average team. Since their entire style of play is based on defence, the thumping they got in their last game would’ve affected them severely. In fact, the resounding dent to their morale will most likely result in Coppell setting them out even more defensively in this game against FCPC.

For example, if they don’t have their defence to rely on, they have nothing because they’re one of the lowest scorers in the league with only 9 goals from 11 games. The only silver lining in that dark cloud of despair will be CK Vineeth who has scored 3 goals in 3 games.

FCPC’s Form & Strategy

mohamed-sissoko-fcpcFortunately for KBFC, FCPC is in the same boat. For FCPC, the lack of morale will come from having lost their last game in the dying minutes to a stoppage time goal. Still, FCPC would be hurting far less than KBFC simply because they can rely on their standout performers.

Of these, Mohamed Sissoko, their marquee signing, will be the most crucial. Sissoko is renowned for his physical, tough-tackling style of play and has exhibited the same by being amongst the top 3 tacklers in the league. However, Sissoko has shown another aspect of his game this season too. He happens to be the second most proficient passer in the league.

In addition to Sissoko, FCPC will be able to rely on Anibal Zurdo Rodriguez, who happens to have scored only one goal fewer than the league leaders. Rodriguez has scored 4 goals.

Will It Be The Tuskers Or The Stallions That Stampede?

Even though FCPC has attacking potential, you can expect them to set out their stall to not concede. This is their usual strategy for away games. We expect them to maintain the status quo and not change something that has worked for them in the majority of situations.

So, that shows us that KBFC and FCPC both will be defensive in this game. They will play conservatively and avoid taking risks. Neither of these teams has the kind of player that can generate a moment of pure magic too. This means that this match will decidedly be a drab affair. Thus, our prediction for this game is a drab, goalless draw.

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