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Will a last-ditch charge be enough for Kerala to reach ISL playoffs?

Football   |   January 9, 2020


Having broken their nine-match winless run in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 season with a convincing 5-1 triumph against Hyderabad FC last Sunday, there’s a buzz in the Kerala Blasters FC camp. Heading into the fixture, there was little hope floating around the Kochi-based club with hopes of a playoff appearance dimming fast. But the win, much like victories often do, seems to have sparked a renewed sense of optimism amongst the Kerala faithful and a place in the top four seems a lot more achievable than it had even last week.

Just five points off the top four and with seven matches to go in the league phase, clawing their way into the top four suddenly seems achievable again and there’s a rising anticipation of a last-ditch cavalry charge from Eelco Schattorie’s men. Adding to the positivity is captain Bartholomew Ogbeche’s recent form, which has seen the 35-year-old score four in the last three matches. The injury list, which severely handicapped the side for the first half of the season, is also diminishing and the flurry of players returning to the field, particularly centre-back Gianni Zuiverloon, will certainly help the Men in Yellow in their final charge to realize their ambitions this season.

Wingers Halicharan Narzary and Seityasen Singh also seem to be hitting their stride after a slow start to their campaign and that will come as a big boost for Schattorie, who had, time and again, identified the lack of quality in the wide areas as a severe detriment for the team in the past.

While there were plenty of positives which sprouted up with the welcome win against Hyderabad, how potent does Kerala’s dream run need to be to give them a chance of finishing in the top four and clinch one of the coveted semi-final spots? While there will be a lot of dependencies on the other nine teams involved, let’s gauge the possibilities, considering data from previous seasons.

In the two seasons of ISL with ten teams involved so far (2017-18 and 2018-19), the cut-off for qualifying for the playoffs has hovered around 29-30 points. To recall, the now-defunct FC Pune City who finished fourth in the table in the 2017-18 campaign had accumulated 29 points from their 18 league matches in the season. Meanwhile, NorthEast United FC was the team which clinched the final spot in the top four in the 2018-19 edition with 30 points. Considering a similar points tally will do the trick this season and taking the lower number – 29 – as base, Kerala still need 18 points from seven matches to hit the mark, which makes it imperative that the team wins at least six of the remaining seven – a tough ask to say the least.

Adding to the difficulty will be the fixture spread. Kerala will have to play five of the seven away from home and Schattorie’s men have struggled to pick up points on the road this season. To reiterate, of Kerala’s 11 points, only one have come from their travels. Complicating the equation even further will be the fact that the two matches they have left at home are tough ones. The first will be a South Indian derby against arch-rivals Chennaiyin FC on February 1 while their final venture at home will see them host reigning champions Bengaluru FC in another clash of Southern rivals. Bengaluru have been in top form this season and boast the best defence in the league so far.

So, while the feat certainly isn’t impossible, the numbers surely are stacked against Kerala.